OBLIGEE, OBLIGOR & APPORTIONMENT: A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR ALL VETERANS
by Jim Strickland
Not unlike the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Family Courts of each state are overwhelmed by the number of cases they face. In years past couples would separate and divorce and any obligations imposed upon them by the court in a divorce decree was largely unenforceable. Often enough one or the other would move across a state line and law enforcement agencies didn't have much authority to pursue any of the issues that were there. The problems of a divorced couple were a civil issue, not a criminal problem and the police just weren't interested.
Family Courts evolved from this lack of authority and simultaneously each state began to develop its own Child Support Enforcement divisions within the authority of the state government. The gaps were filled in over the years until each state had a set of laws that were all pretty similar to the other. Federal law stepped in to ensure that interstate enforcement was emphasized and enforced. No longer could a non-paying parent simply walk across a state line to avoid prosecution.
Today the general rule is that no matter where the obligor (the parent ordered to pay) goes, he or she is followed by the rules of the state that issued the divorce decree and/or where the benefiting children are residing. The obligee (the parent who receives and administers the child support payment) need only to inform the state that has jurisdiction that the obligor has failed to meet on obligation and that office has an effective network to enforce the law beyond any other state borders.
History shows that parents ordered to pay support were easily able to avoid such and the culture of "deadbeat dads" became a much maligned subset of men in our society. To this day such parents are held up to public scorn and some communities have weekly roundups of published names and photos in local newspapers that ridicule offenders for being such scofflaws.
The pendulum has swung far in the other direction over the last 40 years or so. Today, if a magistrate of a family court orders child support it may be an amount "impugned" by that Court and the obligation is what is owed based on what the court believes the obligor should earn, not what their earnings actually are. Loss of income by losing a job is rarely seen as a good reason to lower an obligation and even illness often won't sway a judge to modify the excessively high number owed each month.
Family courts have developed a reputation today of being similar to a debtor's prison of old. If you fall behind, you go to jail. While in jail the obligation continues to build. It's apparent that the inmate can't work to earn money to pay the obligation and if the unfortunate obligor is incarcerated at the end of the year, a COLA obligation may kick in and when he or she is free, their monthly obligation is higher than before.
Veterans aren't exempt from any of this and Family Courts have no reasons to show any sympathy to any veteran, disabled or not. The mission of the Court is to protect the interests of the child, nothing more. The Court follows a formula to determine the monthly obligation and that pretty much ends the discussion. If the obligor shows income of (x) and the obligee shows an income of (y) the amount will be determined to be (z) and no more is needed to be heard. Next case!
Each state today requires that most child support be paid to the state agency that enforces such things. This process allows the state to ensure timeliness and accounting of all payments. The good old days of divorcing parents managing to help each other along are mostly a memory and rigid enforcement is all that's left.
Every obligor must understand that to miss the payment to the state office so that the state may distribute the money is a black mark against the obligor. Without the approval of the Court, payments made directly to the obligee that bypass the state are determined to be "gifts" and they do not fulfill the requirement of the divorce decree.
This may be a deadly trap for the disabled veteran. Little known to veterans is a process known as "apportionment". For more on apportionment click http://jimstrickland912.com/A.html
While a disability compensation payment can't be garnisheed by debtors, all an obligee must do is notify the Regional Office of jurisdiction that a veteran is not meeting alimony or child support payments and the veteran will be notified that the adverse action of apportionment is about to begin. The veteran has some of the usual rights to appeal and to a hearing and so on but absolutely no right to any assistance by the VA. VA will not defend the veteran and if the obligee can reasonably show a current decree and order of support as well as arrearage, the apportionment will proceed.
I received the following message a short time ago. The veteran has granted permission that I use all documents as they are printed so that he may help others to be alert for the pitfalls of apportionment. VA Watchdog dot Org offers our sincere thanks to David Holmes for his generous courage, time and effort to get this word out.
For many years my child support was deducted from my v.a. benefits and it was not applied correctly by the child support agency. When the v.a. and my senator started asking question the child support agency filed a court case against me in the name of my childs mother, she was deceased. What they did was to pose as a dead person to cover up their errors. I will try to send an attachment. I won the case."
As you read through the 2 attachments provided here you should note that the VA has no obligation nor any particular right to send apportioned money to anyone other than the individual who requested the apportionment. Even if the obligee had requested that the money apportioned be delivered to the state child support enforcement agency, it's highly doubtful VA would have complied.
The veteran agreed to the apportionment. In having done that he assumed that his obligation was satisfied and that the custodial parent or obligee would receive the correct amount each month and that it would be simpler accounting on his part.
The state agency later disagreed.
The veteran makes the point that the lengths the Family Courts and the state child support enforcement offices will go to may be reprehensible in any final analysis. After the death of the obligee, the state made the decision to proceed with collections against the veteran even though he had actually overpaid his obligation to the now deceased custodial parent.
These two documents, (MAIN OBJECTION PDF LINK) and (JUDGE DECISION PDF LINK) will make for interesting reading for all veterans who may be divorced or contemplating a divorce. While the topic here has been child support, these same rules may apply to alimony.
There is a lesson to be learned here. No matter what you're told by others and no matter what you may wish to believe, your status as a veteran or as a disabled veteran holds no special immunity or promise of preferential treatment in most legal and financial arenas. As you enter into any financial agreements, whether in a divorce court or elsewhere, it's up to you to know what you're signing up for.
In this case the Department of Veterans Affairs had no reason to be involved in this veterans issues other than to follow its scant rules about apportionment and none of that is designed to help the vet. No matter where you walk, there will be traps.
Pay particular attention to where you tread in the Family Court.
David has helped me develop all that above and would like to add;
"Thanks Jim, keep in mind that in my case it was a court order that I receive an adjustment for my Veterans benefits to my child in 1997. What a Veteran should learn from this is that the CSEA pays no attention to court orders. If you are a single parent because of death as in my case any mistakes the CSEA made will fall back on you. I reported this fraud to many Federal and State officials, need I tell you they care not. I encourage each Veteran to send this article to their State and Federal officials to stop this injustice because this is not an isolated case nor the worse one."