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Weighing Child Support Payment Options: Part I – Direct Pay

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Weighing your child support payment options is critical to any child support agreement.  Imagine a scenario where you and the other parent have been in a dispute for several months regarding how much child support should be paid on behalf of your child. Finally, you come to an agreement on the amount and it’s time to draw up an official Agreement . You had assumed child support would be paid directly by you, and the court would not be involved. But your partner wants it paid through the Probation Department. This makes no sense to you as you thought the Probation Department only assisted ex-offenders in staying out of jail, which is a misguided notion many people have.

Child Support Payment Options - direct pay

Parents in New Jersey have to weigh two main options for paying and receiving child support: the first is to pay child support directly between the parties, or to pay it through their county’s Probation Department, which is a part of the State’s Department of Human Services. There are pros and cons associated with each form of payment. While determining the amount of child support is an important issue to resolve, equally important can be determining the best method support should be paid. This is especially true if the parent receiving child support has concerns about compliance or has expenses that cannot be met without child support.

The first part of this series will focus on the benefits (and detriments) of receiving child support directly without the Probation Department acting as a “middle man.” The second part of this series will focus on the pros and cons of paying and receiving child support through the Probation Department.

However, before we proceed with discussing these issues, it is important to note the terms generally used in the context of child support, which terms will be used throughout this series:

  • Obligor: This is the parent who pays child support.
  • Obligee: This is the parent who will receive the child support obligation from the Obligor.
  • Wage Garnishment: This is a means of payment of child support when the Probation Department is administering the obligation, whereby the Obligor’s employer will “garnish,” or take the child support funds taken directly out of the Obligor’s wages, and turned over those funds over to the Probation Department in order to satisfy an Obligor’s child support obligation.
  • Income Withholding Order: This document is generated by the Probation Department when a child support obligation is to be paid via wage garnishment.  This Order is sent to an Obligor’s employer to ensure the employer is advised as to how much child support must be paid, and when.

Below is a summary of various “pros-and-cons” which have been identified by the attorneys of Jacobs Berger, LLC, who all have focused on family law in the state of New Jersey for many years. The circumstances of each individual case involving child support payments will determine the impact of paying and receiving child support payments directly versus paying and receiving child support through your county’s Probation Department. To fully understand the distinction between these two payment options, schedule a consultation today.

There is something to be said about the seamlessness of paying child support directly to the obligee. If your agreement or court order requires that child support be paid every Friday beginning January 1st, for example, the obligor has the ability to immediately begin payment according to the schedule agreed upon by the parties or ordered by the Court. Additionally, if child support has been paid during the pendency of a proceeding or negotiations, parties can simply continue the manner in which child support has always been paid rather than “rocking the boat” by trying something new.

Direct pay can take numerous forms – the Obligor can pay in cash (which is not recommended for reasons to be elaborated on below), via check, or through a direct deposit from their bank account to the Obligee’s bank account. Direct pay has the advantage of being available to the Obligee immediately, rather than having to wait for a check to be deposited and cleared before the funds are accessible. Payments through the Probation Department (to be discussed further in the next part of this series) may yield a delay between when the Obligor’s funds are provided to the Probation Department and when the Obligee actually receives and has access to those funds.

When proceeding with direct pay, it is important that your agreement identifies, or that the court specifies, the exact manner of payment, i.e. cash, check or direct deposit, and the date on which the payment must be made. For example, if you have to pay your child-care provider every Friday, and you cannot pay it without receiving funds from the Obligor, making child support payable every Friday would pose a big obstacle. It would be better if the payment was made earlier in the week to allow time for the payment to be received and cleared before having to pay your child-care provider.

While direct payment can be a beneficial means of paying and receiving child support, there are also some negative aspects to choosing direct pay and foregoing the assistance of the Probation Department.

First, when direct pay is used there is no oversight by your county’s Probation Department, which can take numerous measures of enforcement when an obligor fails to pay the child support obligation (to be discussed further in Part II of this series). The Probation Department’s enforcement measures would primarily benefit an obligee, without the necessity of having to file a motion seeking enforcement of the child support obligation, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

Additionally, both parties can benefit from the Probation Department tracking all payments and disbursements made to the account. Having Probation track all payments can be very useful if a party is particularly litigious and you need to be able to prove what was paid in and out, and when. On the other hand, if you pay or accept child support directly, it can be more difficult and time-consuming to try to track the payments on your own.  When paying or receiving support directly, you will have to ensure you keep excellent records of all payments made and received, as you will need to demonstrate this to the court if there is ever a need to go to court to address this issue. This is one reason why cash payments are not advisable, as there is no paper trail of transfers or deposits to prove that a payment actually was made and received.

If you choose to have child support paid directly, this does not preclude you from seeking that payment go through the Probation Department in order to have the Department take over the enforcement and administration of the obligation in the future. During the pendency of the child support obligation, either party can request that the Probation Department begin administering and enforcing the obligation. In fact, payment through the Probation Department is the default means of payment unless the parties agree otherwise or unless the court is shown good cause as to why the Probation Department should not be in charge. But before you decide to decide that you want support paid or received through Probation, check out our next post on the pros and cons of payment through the Probation Department, and judge for yourself what is best for your case.

For more information, or to talk about your Child Support Payment Options with one of our licensed and experienced New Jersey family law attorneys, contact us to schedule your strategy session with our team.

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At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.