In a published opinion filed today, the Court of Appeals addressed, among other things, post-judgment interest on past-due child support payments. The case in question, Bauckman v. McLeod, revolved around a father's child support obligation, and years worth of time where father paid a lower amount than ordered, and paid no child support during his visitation in the summer months when their child was in his physical custody. The parties' divorced in 2002, and father's child support obligation was established by that order.
The argument presented by father at trial was that mother agreed to receiving a lower amount of support. Father testified the agreement resulted from a conversation between he and mother in 2008 which was prompted by father's personal economic hardships at that time. Neither party petitioned the family court to have the agreement approved, so it was never adopted as an order modifying father's child support obligation. Mother sought the determination of father's child support obligation through the litigation, and father sought the protection of the affirmative defense of equitable estoppel to any child support arrearage being calculated and levied against father.
The Court of Appeals concluded that equitable estoppel was not established by father at the trial level. Therefore, every reduced child support payment left a remainder of non-payment from the original child support obligation ordered by the family court in 2002. As well, each payment that father did not make during the summers that he exercised his visitation and their child resided with him were calculated and included in father's child support arrears.
The confusion for me, however, is how the Court of Appeals addressed the post-judgment interest requested by mother for father's unpaid child support. I have addressed this issue specifically in 3 previous trials where I represented a mother seeking a determination of father's unpaid child support arrears, as well as post-judgment interest for each installment that was deficient in amount, or unpaid entirely. In 2 of the 3 trials my clients prevailed in obtaining the post-judgment interest for each child support installment.
The Court of Appeals in this case relies on the exact same authority I relied upon, yet the determination of the interest on the child support does not appear to be accurate. The Court of Appeals cites Casey v. Casey in which the South Carolina Supreme Court established the precedent that post-judgment interest would attach to property awards (“equitable distribution”) resulting from a divorce, and same would apply to each payment that came due if a schedule of payments was ordered by the family court. The Court of Appeals also cited Edwards v. Campbell, in which the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the same principle applies to a parent's child support obligation each time the payment becomes due.
In Bauckman v. McLeod, however, the Court of Appeals approached the post-judgment interest calculation in a different manner than both cases cited for the proposition that child support payments are subject to post-judgment interest. In fact, the language cited from both cases was contained in today's published opinion, and each case cited sets forth that post-judgment interest is calculated from the time each payment becomes due. The Court of Appeals, however, decided that the post-interest judgment rate for each child support installment would be determined by when the original order establishing father's child support obligation was entered — 2002.
I do not agree with that determination by the Court of Appeals. I believe the correct application of post-judgment interest would be determined by when each payment became due, as expressed in both Casey and Edwards. By order of the South Carolina Supreme Court, filed January 4, 2008, the legal rate of interest on judgments in 2008, and therefore each child support payment that became due in 2008, was 11.25% compounded annually. The legal rate of interest on judgments from 2009 through 2015 was 7.25% compounded annually. It seems to me that the year that each father's child support payments became due would determine the legal rate of interest that applied to that installment. The math would certainly be a little more complicated, but the result would be correct.