Can Alimony Be Paid Directly to the Ex-Spouse & Child Support Through Child Support Enforcement?

By Heather Frances J.D.

When couples divorce, the court may issue a divorce decree ordering a spouse to pay child support and alimony to the other spouse. Typically, the divorce decree describes the manner in which payments must be made. Courts may direct that alimony be paid directly to the recipient spouse while child support is paid to the recipient spouse through the state’s child support agency. However, if these arrangements do not work well for the parties, the court may permit alternate arrangements.

Child Support Agencies

The Child Support Enforcement Program is a partnership between federal, state and local governments in the collection of child support and its administration varies between states. The program’s goal is to help custodial parents locate non-custodial parents, establish paternity, establish and enforce child support orders, modify orders when appropriate and collect and distribute child support payments.

Paying Child Support

Courts may order parents to pay child support through the state child support agency rather than paying it directly to the custodial parent. Typically, child support orders that are part of divorce decrees come with income withholding orders. An income withholding order directs the non-custodial parent’s employer to withhold child support from the non-custodial parent’s paycheck and send it to the state child support agency. The state child support agency then distributes it to the custodial parent. Even if the non-custodial parent is self-employed, loses his job or is between jobs, his payment obligations continue; therefore, in such cases, he may be required to make payments directly to the state child support agency for distribution to the custodial parent.

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Direct Payments

Courts may order alimony payments as part of a divorce decree and will typically order the paying spouse to make payments directly to the receiving spouse. In some cases, the court might allow the paying spouse to pay both alimony and child support to the other spouse directly if both spouses agree, but state laws vary on the permissibility of direct payments.

Garnishment for Alimony

If a paying spouse falls behind on his alimony payments, the receiving spouse can file a motion asking the court to find the paying spouse in contempt of court and request a wage garnishment for the past-due alimony payments. Wage garnishment orders the paying spouse’s employer to withhold money from the spouse’s wages and forward the payment directly to the receiving spouse until the past-due amount is brought current.

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