Most of us have at some time had to keep records of our expenses. For a job, a charity pancake breakfast, working with the Scouts, all these are times when you need to keep a record of what you spent so that you can be reimbursed. And if you lose a gas receipt, or forget about that three gallons of milk, it's really not a huge deal.
Not so with child support. Child support is whole new ballgame. When it comes to paying child support you must be as alert as Jack Bauer is when he's saving the President's life. You cannot let anything go to chance.
As a parent, you want to provide for your child. You want to make sure they have their needs met. What you don't want to do is be a bookkeeper – however that is precisely what you must be. The rules on child support are hard and fast, and there is very little compassion for the father who, tearfully and honestly, tells a court, "I gave her cash every week for 10 years." Oops, sorry, if you can't prove that you have paid every last dime that you owe your ex for the care and feeding of your child, you have to pay it again."
The court system has become extremely harsh on father's who don't pay their child support. Your driver's license, your passport, and even your professional license as a doctor or a lawyer can and will be suspended for failure to pay your child support in a timely fashion.
So what do you do? 1. You never pay your child support in cash. EVER.
Unless you get a receipt from your ex with her name, signature, amount paid and the date it was paid and the period for which it is to be credited. As a paying father, it is your responsibility to make sure that you can prove that every penny owed was paid. The best way to do this is to pay by written, physical check, hand it to her, and get a receipt from her each time. But that is probably more interaction with her than you want, so the next best thing is to keep your cancelled checks in a separate file and have backup copies of every check you paid. 2. When your ex has you paying to the state, it is even more important that you keep copies of everything.
The government, shockingly, frequently makes mistakes about what you owe, what you've paid and your current status. It happens with great regularity that a man pays all of his support, on time, and the state thinks that he is years behind in paying, seizes his driving privileges, suspends his passport and now he has to prove to them that he is actually a good guy who has paid all that he owed. 3. And don't throw away those check copies, ever.
Because child support never goes away, even in bankruptcy, five years after your child has become 18, you can still get a letter from the district attorney asking when you are going to pay up for all those years of back child support they think you owe. David Pisarra is an attorney, columnist and entrepreneur, who operates Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica, Calif. Click here for his Web site.