Ask a Divorce Lawyer: Why can’t I pay child support directly to my ex? Why do I have to pay the county to do it?

Question: I live in Ohio and pay child support, which I have no objection to paying the court-ordered support. The payments go through the county and then they pay my ex-wife. The charge every month is $25 for processing. 

Can I just pay her direct and avoid the processing fee? It is not a large monthly amount but added up over 15 years it is a nice sum and I would rather she gets that or it goes into a college fund. 

How can I change this?

Answer:

Unless and until your order states that you can pay your ex-wife directly, you must pay child support through the county. In most states, the money you pay directly to your ex-wife will be treated as a “gift,” not child support. Since the appropriate entity (the county) did not receive the money, you would still owe child support. You could even end up paying the full amount (or state fees) twice. 

If you would rather pay your ex-wife directly, contact your attorney and/or your county child support administrator to learn what the local requirements are for opting out of the county payment system. Most states do allow you to opt out, but generally you cannot have arrears and both parents must agree and/or the court must determine a revised child support order is appropriate. 

In Michigan, for example, the payor and the payee must agree, the payor must have no arrears, and there must be no threats of domestic violence or signs of “strong-arm” bargaining between the parties before the court will consider an opt-out. When you are allowed to pay your ex-wife directly, if ever, be sure to make the payments by check so that you have a record of when you wrote the check and whether it cleared your checking account.

Keep in mind that I am a Michigan attorney and cannot give you detailed advice about the laws in Ohio. You should not rely on this answer as establishing an attorney-client relationship, and you should contact an attorney in your area immediately if you need additional information or legal representation, as most parties in child support cases do. The laws applicable to your order may be unique to your state, and only an attorney who practices in your state can fully advise you and represent you.

 

Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

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