When a child is born, both parents have a financial responsibility for that child. It’s not uncommon, once the parents separate, for both parents to contribute to the daily needs of the child; they share time with the child, school expenses, extracurricular activity expenses, purchase clothes, and in many cases, one parent gives money directly to the other parent for the child , oftentimes even without a formal court order. However, time and again, at some point, the parent who receives that money from the other parent alleges that the parent has not been making child support payments as ordered. This is where problems arise, because if the paying parent can’t prove that they have in fact been financially supporting their child, they may be hit with child support arrears (back child support), which can have detrimental financial and legal effects including increased wage garnishments, contempt charges, bank levies, license suspension, and more.

Here are 7 proactive things you can do to make sure you get credit for child support payments.

  1. Avoid paying in cash– Although typically “cash is king,” that is not true when it comes to child support cases. In fact, paying child support in cash is one of the biggest mistakes often made by the non-custodial or paying parent. Cash is hard to track. Unless you are given a receipt from the receiving parent for the cash payments you make, if that parent one day alleges that payment was never made, you will have to go to far lengths to prove that you actually did make payment directly to the parent.
  2. How to prove cash payments– If you’ve already made several payments to the other parent in cash in the past, all hope is not lost if claims of non-payment are made, but you will have to do a little leg work, and it may or may not suffice, depending on how diligent you’ve been keeping track of things.
    Method 1– Obtain copies of your bank statements that align with each payment you made. If you withdrew money for your child support from the bank, or made transfers with the note “child support,” indicated, you may be able to show that you routinely withdrew cash payments specifically for child support.
    Method 2– Subpoena the other parent’s bank records. When you have a pending Family Law matter, you can often take advantage of what’s known as the “discovery” process; this is the way lawyers are able to obtain information from the other party in your case that they may not voluntarily provide. If you subpoena the other parent’s bank records, you may be able to show that your checks were in fact cashed or deposited into their bank account and that they did actually receive the payments. This method goes hand in hand with having your bank records, as you will be able to cross-refer their deposits to the withdrawals that came from your account.
  3. Use checks or money orders– If you pay using a check, it’s usually pretty easy to obtain copies of canceled (cashed) checks from your bank. Using Money orders is a slightly less efficient way to track payments, but if you make a copy of the completed money order and save the money order stubs/receipts, this may suffice.
  4. Write “child support” in the memo of each check or money order– When using checks or money orders, it’s important to note “Child Support” in the memo of the check or on the stub.
  5. Keep receipts– It’s so easy to make a habit of immediately trashing receipts in an effort to avoid clutter. However, in the case of caring for your child, it’s essential that you keep receipts for any and all payments and purchases made for the benefit of your child. I like to say, it’s better to have too much than too little – it’s okay to go overboard. Set up a file, call it “child expenses,” and put any receipts in that file. And to take it a step further, make a note on your receipts, circle the date/time, amount, and write what the payment was for. This way, if the issue of whether you take care of your child come up, you will have plenty of documentation to show what was purchased, when, why, and for how much.
  6. Communicate with your spouse regarding each payment in writing– In case all else fails, always C.Y.A. (“Cover YOU’RE A* %). Good Lawyers do it when they work on your behalf and you should do it too. C.Y.A. is important for every aspect of your case, but in this aspect, all it requires is that you send a letter, text or email to the other parent, confirming delivery/receipt of the child support payments. That way, you can use this document as evidence or an exhibit at your trial or hearing later to show that payments were made and/or received.
  7. Go with the garnishment– In most cases, when a child support order is made, a wage garnishment will be issued. This means that your child support will be automatically deducted from your paycheck. This is especially true in cases where the local child support agency is involved. However, in some cases, the parents can agree that support payments will be made directly to the other parent. More often than not, this is a bad idea, especially in cases of high conflict between the parties, because at some point, claims of non-payment are made. So, to be on the safe side and avoid unnecessary litigation for the sake of proving that you paid your child support, it’s likely best that you request or agree to wage garnishment – this way there are trackable records of payment and your payments will be made on time.