There are several ways child support can be paid, and each method has advantages and disadvantages. One parent can directly pay the other by cash, check, or money order. This person-to-person method is simple and does not require waiting for any processing time by the state. The receiving parent must keep records and track the payments. Enforcement is more difficult and is not as automatic. If you agree to this type of payment, it is wise to include a provision that if payment is missed for a certain number of months, wage garnishment (see below) will be set up automatically.
Wage garnishment is another method of payment. Child support is deducted from the paying spouse’s paycheck and sent either to the receiving spouse or to the state Child Support Enforcement Agency. Garnishment requires an extra step of formally notifying the paying parent’s employer and setting a court date for the garnishment order. The parent receiving the support must handle all of the paperwork. The employer is legally obligated to withhold the support from the paycheck. The advantage of this method is that payment is made automatically. There are several disadvantages. First of all, the paying parent is likely to find it embarrassing, which might escalate hostilities between you. Second, there are limits to how much can be garnished from wages, so you may not be able to get the entire support amount this way. If your spouse is self-employed, you cannot garnish the wages. You also cannot prevent the paying spouse from quitting his job, which then puts you in the position of having to do more legwork to find the new employer and garnish again.
Wage garnishment is controlled by the Consumer Credit Protection Act, a federal law that limits the percent of wages that can be garnished. The garnishment law allows up to 50% of a worker’s disposable earnings to be garnished for child support if the worker is supporting another spouse or child, or up to 60% if the worker is not. An additional five percent may be garnished for support payments more than 12 weeks in arrears.
The third option is to have your state child-enforcement agency collect all child support. You can agree to send payment through this organization from the beginning or at any point while child support is being paid. This is also the agency that will assist you in collecting unpaid child support. The advantage of this method is that the receiving parent doesn’t have to do any legwork or keep any records and the parents don’t need to have any contact with each other about child support (which can be helpful if you’re prone to disagreements about this). Payments are automatically increased with the cost of living. The disadvantage is that the agency may take a small percentage of the payment as an administrative fee. The paying spouse may not appreciate this method, as there is absolutely no slack given for late or missed payments. Another disadvantage is that you’re dealing with a government agency, so there is likely to be red tape and backlogs.
Excerpted from The Complete Divorce Handbook (Sterling, 2009) by Brette McWhorter Sember, JD. More info here.