Questions about Child Support Payments

Many divorced parents have questions about child support payments, such as when payments will start, who is eligible to receive the payments, and more.

By WomansDivorce | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D.

If you have minor children, both you and the other parent are responsible for financially supporting them. Generally, the non-custodial parent contributes his or her portion of the financial support in the form of child support payments to the other parent.

Some parents informally agree on how much the custodial parent will be paid. Unfortunately, informal agreements cannot be enforced when the other parent doesn't pay. To ensure the continuation of child support payments, it's a good idea to get a child support order.

To get the process started, you'll need to file for child support with the court. This can be done as part of your divorce or separation paperwork, or it can be filed separately. The amount of child support to be paid will depend on where you live. Every state has guidelines for determining how child support is calculated. The final child support order will detail how much child support will be paid, as well as who will be responsible for carrying health coverage for the child, and how other expenses will be split.

Once a child support order has been established, support can be paid directly to the other parent  or to the state child support enforcement agency. Sometimes the payments are made via wage-withholding from the obligated parent’s paycheck. The support enforcement agency will then send payment to the parent receiving child support. When payments go through the court or enforcement agency, there is a record of when payments were made and the amount that was paid. This makes enforcing the child support order easier.

How often child support payments are made can vary. In most states, the standard payment schedule is a monthly payment which is due on a certain day of each month. But weekly or bi-weekly payments may be ordered depending on the parent’s financial situation. Payment frequency may also depend on how often the non-custodial parent is paid if child support payments are automatically withdrawn from their paycheck.

So what happens if the child support payment is late? Usually the court won’t step in if the payment is a few days late. However, enforcement action may be taken if payments are habitually late or unpaid for several months at a time. If you are facing this situation, it’s a good idea to consult with your child support enforcement agency or a lawyer about starting enforcement proceedings.  

Child support payments can only be changed legally through a modification of the child support order. For this to happen, there needs to be a change in circumstances of either parent to justify the change. For example, if either parent is making significantly more money, loses their job, or becomes ill and unable to work. Either parent is able to request a child support modification

To help you further understand your situation, below are answers to some frequently asked questions about child support payments.

Common questions about child support payments

When does child support start?

Cheryl's Question: If a non-custodial parent has to go to court for his preliminary hearing on child support, will he have to make a child support payment then?

Brette's Answer: No child support is due until an order is entered. It then generally becomes due the next week or next month (depending on whether it is being paid weekly or monthly).

Should I take my ex to court if payments started a month late?

Jeanne's Question: My settlement papers stated that child support would begin on the 1st of the month (no specific month was stated). My lawyer says that since these papers were signed in February, child support should begin as of March. My divorce was not final until April. I was never able to collect the child support for March. Do I have a case? My lawyer tells me just to forget about it.

Brette's Answer: The amount you would spend paying your lawyer to litigate that would probably exceed the amount you are owed.

Is child support owed for the time before the divorce is finalized?

Shirley's Question: If a divorce is not final until a judge signs off on it (technically still married until then) can child support be enforced for the time period before it is finalized?

Brette's Answer: Generally a temporary order is entered into during the case. If not, then child support is not payable until the order is issued.

Do we have to set the support payments up through the state?

Bianca's Question: Our divorce is recently final and I'm the custodial parent. We are on incredibly good terms. I was wondering if we can continue to handle our child support privately. He has agreed to the ordered amount and has been paying it and I have no worries about this. Do we have to open an account with the clerk's office for future child support? I would rather not and thus save him the docket fees charged yearly.

Brette: You'll need to check with your attorney to determine if your state requires you to set it up through the state. The problem with handling child support privately is that it can be much more difficult to collect should there ever be a payment issue.

Will I get less child support if it's collected through the state?

Debra Asks: My ex withholds child support payments as punishment. He laughs and says there is nothing I can do because he holds out just under a month. We agreed on $250.00 a week to be paid each Friday. He threatens that if I file to have him pay through the courts he will only have to pay $40.00 a week. I am sick of being bullied and controlled by him. What choices do I have?

Brette Answers: You can ask to have child support collected and paid through your state child support agency. It will not reduce the amount you are paid at all and it will save you a lot of headache.

Should I switch our child support order to the state I now live in?

Jessica's Question: My ex-husband and I divorced in West Virginia, but neither one of us still lives there. Should I switch everything to Ohio where I now reside with our child? How do I go about doing that if it is possible?

Brette's Answer: You don't need to do anything unless you want child support collected by the new state. Should you need to enforce or modify the order you can do that in your new state.

How can I have support payments taken out of his check?

Louise: My soon-to-be ex has been court ordered to pay $125.00 per week for our son, but only pays what he chooses. How do I get DHS to take the support out of his check?

Brette's Answer: The court has to order that the payments be garnished. You can ask for this.

Does he owe the remainder if the withholding order started on the 4th?

Amanda's Question: My ex was ordered to pay child support on the first of the month and a withholding order was issued to collect the payment. The order wasn't served on his employer until the 4th of January, so the payment was less than what the support order stated. He claims he isn't responsible for remainder of the first month because the withholding order has come now into play. Is he off the hook for the rest of the January's support because the orders weren't served to the employer until the 4th? 

Brette's Answer: He owes it. The withholding order just says how it is to be collected. The amount is due based on the child support order.

Where is the child support money if mom never received the payments?

Luis' Question: My father paid child support for 13 years and my mother never received it. Where is the money? I am 25 now, so it's no longer important. But my mother just mentioned it to me so I'm interested.

Brette's Answer: Who did he pay it to? Was it the state child support collection agency? If so, they are probably still holding the funds.

Can he deduct what I owe him from the child support payment?

Michelle's Question: My ex is claiming I owe him money for credit card charges. He informed me today he is deducting what he says I owe from the child support payment. Can he do that?

Brette's Answer: No he can't. He is required to pay the full amount of child support to you. Child support is not affected by property distributions.

Is he still liable for paying child support if he moves out of the country?

Giselle's Question: Can my ex move from the country and not be held responsible for paying child support anymore?

Brette's Answer: If your ex moves out of the country, he continues to owe child support; however collecting it becomes even more difficult. Good luck.

Does he still owe child support if my 15 year old refuses visitation?

Jennifer's Question: If a 15 year old does not want to visit her father any longer, is he required to continue paying child support?

Brette's Answer: Yes. Child support and visitation are completely separate. Find out what to do if your child refuses visitation. Good luck.

Is child support supposed to come to me if I don't live with my mom?

Heather's Question: I'm 17 and my father pays child support to my mother, but I don't live with her anymore. Is the child support supposed to come to me?

Brette's Answer: No. If you live independently you are emancipated and child support ends.

Can he pay the child support directly to our son after he turns 18?

Danielle's Question: My son will be 18 on April 28th. Currently the child support payment is a direct deposit managed by DSHS. The child support obligation is through June 21, when my son graduates per the divorce agreement. My ex is telling my son that when he turns 18 he is going to pay him directly. Is that possible and if so, what can be done to prevent that?

Brette's Answer: No, he can't do that. If he does, you can file a violation/enforcement procedure. Child support is payable to the other parent, not to the child. Good luck.

Can child support be paid directly to a child in college?

Sara's Question: My daughter will be going away to college in the fall. I am currently making child support payments to my ex-husband. Once she leaves for college can I send the payments directly to my daughter instead of her father if he agrees?

Brette's Answer: Child support is payable to the parent, not the child. If you and your ex come to another agreement, get it in writing.

Will I still receive support if my son is with friends over the summer?

Sharon's Question: My son is 17 and he is going to stay with his friend for the summer. Will I still receive child support from my ex while he is up there?

Brette's Answer: Yes. Child support does not change based on where the child is on a temporary basis.

Will support be paid to my friend if my child lives there temporarily?

Melinda's Question: If there is a court order for child support, and the child is temporarily residing with a friend, does the case have to go back through the court to have the payee be my friend and not me?

Brette's Answer: A person who does not have legal custody cannot receive child support. 

Can child support be paid to someone else if the child moves out?

Catherine's Question: I'm a 16 year old teen and I will turn 17 in August. I want to move in with my boyfriend who lives with his grandma. If I move in with him, does his grandma then get the child support?

Brette's Answer: No. Only a parent or legal guardian can receive child support. By doing this you are emancipating yourself and child support is no longer available.

Does money the grandparents give to the kids count towards child support?

Toni's Question: My ex has not paid child support for the last six years. His parents have always bought my kids things and sent them money, but I never received any money from them. Can they say that is part of child support?

Brette's Answer: No. Child support is money paid to the other parent as part of a court order.

Will I be compensated for helping him pay child support?

Barbara's Question: During our marriage, I helped my husband make the child support payments from his previous marriage. Shouldn't the amount that was paid for child support be deducted from his share of the equity we've built? He wants to sell the house and leave me with nothing.

Brette's Answer: The child support payments your husband made will have no impact on your property settlement. Technically the responsibility was his, not yours.