J. Shannon Cavers of the Houston, Texas Divorce and Family Law Attorney Blog has a recent post about the need to keep good child support payment records. When someone is ordered to pay child support, the best approach is to pay through the court registry. Currently, most payments go through the Attorney General's office in San Antonio. They do a good job of keeping records and they are able to send the funds back out with a very short turn-around. Their records are taken as gospel in any court, so letting them keep your records by sending payments through their office is a very prudent course of action. Sometimes, however, for various reasons, a parent paying support does not want to send the payments through that office, or the parent receiving support may request direct payments to him or her without going through the child support office. Sometimes, emergencies come up and the receiving parent may need to get the funds early or just in the quickest manner possible. For any of those or other reasons, the paying parent may make some direct payments outside the child support system. While that may be the best course of action for several reasons, it has the drawback of not creating a reliable paper trail for the payment.
If cash is paid, a receipt should be obtained, but it can be (and often is) lost and memories grow dim as time passes. Even if support is paid by check, a copy of the check should be retained, but those are hard to come by now. Apparently, banks only keep copies of account records for about seven (7) years. Since child support can be enforced well past the child's 18th birthday, the paying parent can be put at a serious disadvantage if an enforcement action is started years after the direct payments were made.
Another pitfall relating to child support is the common situation where direct payments are made, but the amount is less than the amount ordered. This often happens because a deal was made that gave credit to the paying parent for some other expense he or she paid for the child or the other parent. The record of payment will show an improper amount which could result in an enforcement action.
Not to be too obvious, when child support payments have been made, but there is no reliable record to confirm that, the courts generally consider them unpaid. Likewise, when child support payments are made in a manner different from the way described in the court order that controls the issue, the payments are often completely discounted. In other words, without proof and without following proper procedures, the paying parent likely will not get official credit for payments. The result: the paying parent may be forced to pay the support a second time.
Suggestions to help avoid problems:
1. Always pay the full amount on time. 2. Use a wage assignment to have the payments automatically deducted from your paycheck and recorded by the state. 3. If you make direct payments of child support, keep a copy of the check or a receipt for back-up. Get a receipt signed by the receiving spouse.
4. Keep your child support records in a safe deposit box for each year until your exposure for child support is ended. Show your divorce decree or order to a lawyer so the last day of exposure can be calculated.
5. If you and the other parent agree to do anything different from what is provided in the divorce decree or other court order, memories fade and you could have trouble later. It would be wise to have a brief written agreement which states what was agreed to and why it was. That agreement should be kept in a safe deposit box.
6. If an agreement is reached to change the amount or other details regarding child support, the best course of action is to put it in the form of a Rule 11 Agreement which is then filed with the court. A proper Rule 11 Agreement that is filed with the court can have the effect of a court order.
An extra dose of caution can go a long way in protecting you on the issue of child support payments. It is no longer unusual for paying parents to face a child support enforcement action after a child is 18. Making the payments properly and keeping good records can prevent a lot of problems and help you avoid making the same payments twice.