We like to think it will never happen, but sometimes spouses who are obligated to pay child support or cover some of their children’s expenses fail to fulfill their obligations. When that happens, you tell yourself that it isn’t possible, that he or she is a parent and wouldn’t abandon their children in this way. Unfortunately, not only does this happen, it happens often.
For the spouse and child reliant on those payments, it is easy to feel helpless. But, the truth is, if you keep your wits about you, you will quickly realize that, in fact, you are not helpless. But I will warn you that you are going to need to be on your game. Sitting back and playing the victim will no doubt make you one.
If you find yourself in the position of having to enforce your spouse’s child support obligation and expenses he or she is required to pay, here are a few steps you can take in the event you need to take further action later.
- Keep records. When it comes to record keeping, the more accurate the records are, the better. It is best to keep copies of all receipts, proofs of payment, and the like. That way, when making a request for a reimbursement, there is evidence that the expense was incurred and is quantifiable. I cannot emphasize how important itemizing your expenses is. When you are seeking repayment, it is hard (if not impossible) to receive money for a charge that you cannot show you paid in the first place. It is almost the same as if it never happened.
- Contact the other side in writing. Email is best but regardless if you use email or snail mail, be clear and concise. Explain what the expense incurred is or that child support is past due, or whatever the case may be, and that there is an obligation in the agreement or judgment to pay. Doing so creates a record of the other spouse knowing that there exists an obligation. It also sets them up to respond and acknowledge the same. If they fail to establish that defense early on in the case, raising it later will prove more challenging for them.
- File a petition. If your attempts get you nowhere, your next step will be to file a petition with the court to enforce your agreement or judgment. When you do, you should also seek attorney’s fees. After all, it is your spouse’s failure to pay that has necessitated you taking this action. Then attach all of your receipts (which you have because you were keeping accurate and detailed records all along), as well as records of all your attempts to communicate with your spouse to collect what payment or payments are due you and resolve the issue outside the courtroom.
- Litigate. Going to court should be your last and final resort but remain an option until the respondent either offers a settlement, or the judge makes a ruling in your case. Nobody wants to think that they are going to have to litigate to compel a parent to pay for his or her child. However, often that is what happens. When hiring a lawyer, it is, therefore, important to consider the possibility of going to court as you evaluate your attorney’s skills and experience. Divorce, like life itself, is filled with surprises and just as the old saying goes, forewarned is forearmed.