Should I Put My Child's Father on Child Support?
A question I’m asked with some frequency is whether I think there is a need for a formal child support order between the parents of a child. My answer, whether I represent the custodial or noncustodial parent, is almost always YES. There are many reasons why. Caution: these reasons may be outweighed by other factors in your particular case. You should consult with an attorney about pros and cons before taking any concrete steps.
This post explores the reasons why it’s to a custodial parent’s advantage to have a court order for child support that sends payment through the State Disbursement Unit. Although this post assumes the parent receiving child support is the mother, that is certainly not always the case. However, I would say that for various reasons, the primary residential parent is more often than not the mother, particularly for children born out of wedlock.
A child support order makes clear to both parents how much is to be paid and how often.
Often, the Alternate Residential Parent, or ARP, does not have a real understanding of how much money it takes to raise a child. Child support is intended to be used for the child’s food, clothing, housing, medical care, daycare, and other needs. Frequently, the ARP is dissatisfied with a court order because he feels it is too high, and the PRP is dissatisfied with the same order because she feels it is too low. A court order takes the argument out of things. The number is what it is.
Going through the State Disbursement Unit prevents uncomfortable conversations.
Parents who send and receive their child support payments by garnishment through Nashville don’t have to talk about the child support on a regular basis. The PRP doesn’t have to ask the ARP where the child support payment is, and the child does not become an intermediary who delivers the child support payment. One of the things happy couples fight about is money. It is not a stretch of the imagination that regularly discussing money with your ex could put a strain on your efforts at co-parenting. Reducing conflict produces a better relationship between the parents and a greater likelihood that both parents will stay involved with the child’s life, and this benefits everyone.
There is now a statute of limitations on retroactive child support, also known as “back pay.”
The Tennessee legislature changed the law on back pay in July 2017. Prior to that date, a parent could seek child support all the way back to the child’s date of birth. Now, however, there is a 5-year statute of limitations. That means you can only get back pay for the five years before you file a petition. If your child is 10 years old, for example, then your retroactive child support would only be calculated back to the time the child was 5, and not back to the birth. This change in the law means, for many parents, that it makes sense to file for child support and get an order sooner rather than later.
Going through the State Disbursement Unit prevents lengthy and potentially expensive litigation about what your ex has paid and has not paid.
Almost universally, there is an argument at the initial child support hearing that goes like this:
Her: He never paid me a single dime in child support!
Him: But I bought diapers and formula and food and any time you needed something and asked me for it, I bought it and gave it to you. I take care of my child.
Her: One box of diapers a month? You think that’s enough to support a kid?
Judge: Does anyone have any documentation of the price of the items that the father gave to the mother?
Both parents: No, we didn’t keep track of that.
Judge: Ma’am, how much on average do you think he spent on items he gave to you to support the child?
Her: I don’t know, $50?
Him: $50? You really think I only gave you $50 a month? No, it was more like $200 a month. Plus I paid your car insurance for like a whole year after we broke up. That was like $100 a month. So what’s that, $300 a month?
The judge then has to decide which of these complete strangers to believe about how much support has been provided for the child. Sometimes the judge believes the mother, and sometimes the judge believes the father. Sometimes the judge splits the difference and picks a number in the middle. If lawyers are involved, then the debate about who paid what can intensify and become pretty expensive.
On the other hand, if a parent is sending child support through Nashville, then there is no argument about what was paid and when. There is literally a system called TCSES where either parent can log in and print out all payments that have been made, and the printout is admissible as evidence in court.
These are just a few of the reasons that going through the courts for child support is a good idea. My next post will deal with this question from the obligor’s (ARP’s, non-custodial parent’s) perspective.