How to Track Child Support Payments: Methods, Challenges and Expert Tips

Nearly half of custodial parents receive child support. Learn how to track child support payments and download a free child support tracking template. Explore expert tips on the best ways to track expenses and manage conflicts. 

Inside this article:

The essentials of child support tracking

To track child support payments, both co-parents should keep meticulous records of payments. Tracking child support payments is essential to maintain transparency and accountability. It also supports financial stability for your child. 

Child support is a lifeline for many co-parents. Even when co-parents don't have the chance to see their children regularly, they still bear a financial responsibility to support them. Managing finances can be stressful, and co-parenting often introduces additional issues to consider. However, managing child support is essential to ensure your child has the necessary resources and to create a healthy, transparent financial relationship with your co-parent.

According to 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly half of all custodial parents receive some type of child support. This statistic highlights the fact that most co-parents will have to manage child support at one point. Monitoring and tracking child support payments is a crucial component of guaranteeing financial stability for your child.

Child support tracking involves maintaining a comprehensive record of outgoing and incoming payments. This practice holds both parties accountable and provides an impartial record in case of disputes. As Philip Herzberg, who is a Lead Financial Advisor at Team Hewins, a wealth management firm with offices in South Florida and the San Francisco Bay Area, notes, "Co-parents manage and track child support by keeping copious records for all payments made for the benefit of their child."

Fortunately, there are many methods that work for co-parents to track child support payments effectively.

Key Takeaways:

  • Direct payments usually require co-parents to keep their own records by hand or with an electronic spreadsheet.
  • Experts recommend using indirect payments with instant tracking, like mobile apps or income withholding.
  • Tracking child support keeps both co-parents accountable, reduces conflict, and provides financial security for the child.
  • Make sure you start tracking as soon as possible and track shared expenses with the same method.
  • A co-parenting app consolidates everything about co-parenting—including managing and tracking child support—in one centralized, secure location.

Different methods to track child support payments 

There are several ways to track child support payments, depending on how you make payments. You can use government tracking services, save your receipts, or use apps that automatically track your payments.

“There are many different methods to keep accurate child support records,” says Herzberg. “You must find a system that works best for you, whether that’s taking advantage of stage agency income withholding or using a mobile app to pay, receive, and track child support.” 

The method you select for tracking child support payments largely depends on how you pay and receive child support. Tracking child support starts with choosing the most appropriate approach according to your specific payment method.

When co-parents make direct payments to each other using methods like cash, checks, or money orders, they must diligently record these transactions. However, if co-parents opt for income withholding or utilize electronic procedures through banks or apps to exchange money, they can benefit from automatic electronic tracking systems. These systems simplify the process by keeping a digital record of payments, making it more convenient and efficient.

Here's a list of different methods to track child support payments.

  • Manually recording
    Useful for: Direct payments between co-parents 
    This method involves keeping a detailed handwritten record of each child support payment received. Custodial parents or caregivers can create a journal or ledger to note the date, amount, and source of each payment. While it's a straightforward approach, it can become time-consuming and error-prone with a high volume of payments.

    Experts unanimously agree—manually recording child support tracking is not a long-term or reliable method.

    I like to say that we are in Beyonce’s internet,” quips Lisa M. Knox, Esq., Tampa Bay Family Law Attorney, Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator, and owner of L. M. Knox Law and Mediation, PLLC. “What I mean is, there's no need to waste time on manual record-keeping or deal with the inevitable errors that come with it.” 
  • Manually recording in a spreadsheet
    Useful for: Direct payments between co-parents 
    Similar to manual recording, custodial parents can use digital spreadsheets, such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, to track child support payments. Compared with hand-written accounts, this method offers better organization, allows for easy calculations, and reduces the risk of errors.

    Try this free child support tracker if you want to use a spreadsheet to record and track payments. It includes a straightforward way to monitor payments and will help you catch any issues quickly.

Download our free, printable child support templates to get started: Excel Child Support Tracking Template or Google Sheets Child Support Tracking Template

  • Saving receipts (from money orders, checks, or cash payments)
    Useful for: Direct payments between co-parents
    Custodial parents can maintain a record of child support payments by saving receipts received when the non-custodial parent makes payments. This can include receipts from money orders, checks, or cash payments. 

    It's important to note that experts generally don’t recommend paying with methods like checks, cash, or money orders. That’s because it’s hard to substantiate what happened with direct methods in the case of conflict. It’s also much easier to lose the money or receipts when you’re receiving them directly. Herzberg sums it up nicely: “While some parents might be a master of storing receipts, most of us rely on our phones to stay organized.”

    However, if you do make direct payments with these methods, then each receipt should be documented. Here’s what Herzberg recommends: “It is essential for both the payor and payee to keep records of each payment. Include the date of the payment, copy of the form of payment (like a check, wire transfer, Venmo or money order), address if mailed, date cashed, and whether that specific payment was for child support.”
  • Saving bank statements
    If you set up automatic payments through your bank statements, then you can usually add a memo that shows that the payment was for child support.
  • Online tracking through government agencies
    Many co-parents use income withholding for child support, also known as wage garnishment, which offers the advantage of government tracking. Here’s how this process works:

    Typically, a court issues an order to the employer, mandating the withholding of income, which is then remitted to a state disbursement unit responsible for distributing it to the receiving parent. This approach ensures a consistent and dependable flow of payments while also maintaining a comprehensive payment history. Sometimes, the court imposes this method to minimize the risk of a co-parent failing to meet their child support obligations. However, you can also voluntarily choose this method if you believe it's the most suitable option.

    Most state disbursement units now feature online portals that grant both co-parents access to information about when payments were received and deposited. This effectively means that the government is overseeing the tracking of your child support payments, providing an additional layer of accountability and transparency.

    “Income withholding gives you peace of mind when it comes to child support,” says Vanessa Vasquez de Lara, Family Law Attorney and Founder of Vasquez de Lara Law Group. “Most state agencies also have electronic portals where they automatically track the payments for you. Really, the only time it doesn’t work is if the paying co-parent is self-employed.”

    Herzberg echoes this sentiment: “An income withholding order is among the easiest ways to track reliable records of your child support payments. But one possible caveat is that some folks are hesitant to invite the government into their finances.”
  • Mobile apps
    Most co-parents are already well-acquainted with mobile applications designed for sending and receiving money. Apps such as Venmo, Zelle, Cash, PayPal, and many others have revolutionized our approach to financial transactions, making it incredibly convenient to pay for services and goods. It comes as no surprise that many co-parents have embraced these platforms to efficiently manage and track their child support payments. “Today, the best way to track payments is via an app,” says Vasquez de Lara. “You can set up automatic deposits into the receiving account and enjoy the automatic tracking that comes with all of today's paying apps.”

    “Apps are great,” agrees Knox. “But a lot of them can be glitchy, and some people are rightfully concerned about security. I like Zelle because it’s already integrated into many banking apps. Regardless of the app, make sure you write down what the money is for in the memo. I advise my clients to write the following: ‘Child support. Month and year.’ After that, you don’t need to worry about tracking because Zelle or another app will automatically track the payment.”

    Herzberg, the financial advisor, is on the same page but recommends apps specifically designed with co-parents in mind. “I recommend using an expense tracking option that also helps you track all other aspects of co-parenting, like OurFamilyWizard. This provides both co-parents with a unified platform to document all incurred and settled expenses, along with the respective contributions of each parent towards these costs.”


Man online shopping on laptop.

Why is it important to track child support payments? 

Tracking child support payments is important for the custodial parent’s financial stability and the child’s well-being. It provides transparency, accountability, and a means to address any issues. Overall, tracking safeguards the child’s best interests.

According to 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 21% of custodial parents contacted a child support enforcement office or other related office for child support-related assistance, usually to try to collect child support they haven’t received yet. This statistic takes on added significance with this additional data: 30% of children residing with a single parent are living in poverty.

The implication is clear: Even a single missed child support payment can have far-reaching and impactful ramifications. This statistic shows that many co-parents fail to manage their child support without external assistance, which can be expensive and stressful. The data clearly illustrates that a substantial number of co-parents struggle to handle child support responsibilities independently and often need external assistance.

Herzberg emphasizes the importance of setting up a child support tracking system to avoid these issues. “Setting up a tracking system early on is vital for both the payer and the payee.” 

He advises co-parents to keep accurate records of every payment that you make since there is a high interest rate imposed for missed child support payments. “At times, co-parents may assert missing child support payments to seek additional funds, despite receiving the payments. Without verifiable proof, you risk the possibility of paying twice, or your co-parent might allege delinquency on your financial obligations.”

Tracking and paying child support is critical to good co-parenting. It ensures your child’s financial security and provides a way for both the custodial and non-custodial co-parent to show that they are complying with the law. Tracking keeps everyone accountable and reduces disputes.

Tracking child support payments is common sense,” says Vasquez de Lara. “Unfortunately, common sense is not so common these days. Child support matters can become quite sensitive, often leading to disputes.” 

 Here are the three main reasons for tracking child support payments:

  • Legal obligations
    When a court mandates child support, tracking provides a record of compliance. For example, it can help if the custodial parent says there was a partial or non-payment. Overall, it’s the best way to demonstrate that you’re fulfilling your legal obligations and safeguarding the financial rights of your child. 
  • Impact on children
    Consistent tracking ensures that children receive support for necessities like education and basic living expenses. Also, even if the children have everything they need, they may take on any stress the co-parents might express.

    “Children can feel tension from their parents,” says Herzberg. “If something is amiss with child support, they’ll absorb your stress, and no co-parent wants that.”
  • Impact on the custodial parent
    In 2017, around 30% of co-parents who are owed child support don’t receive it, according to the United States Census Bureau. That means 30% of American co-parents are missing out on funds they might need to support themselves and their children.

    Tracking child support payments is vital for custodial parents who depend on these funds to meet their children's needs. Accurate records provide peace of mind, ensuring that custodial parents can budget effectively and maintain household stability. In cases of missed payments or disputes, tracking offers legal recourse and financial protection for the custodial parent, helping them assert their rights and seek resolution.

How to overcome challenges of tracking child support payments 

Automated payments are the best way to overcome challenges with child support. Also, make sure your parenting plan outlines the handling of partial or non-payments.

Child support can seem superficially straightforward—one co-parent pays the other. Unfortunately, issues usually come up, and money can be a sticky topic to get through, especially after a separation.

Here are expert tips on how to overcome common challenges involved in tracking child support payments. 

  • Informal payment methods
    While informal payment methods, like paying directly in cash, may work for a short period, they often break down in the face of conflicts or disputes. Direct, informal payments potentially lead to issues of credibility. In the worst-case scenario, disputes arising from informal payment methods may need resolution in court.

    To tackle this challenge, transition to a formal payment method as soon as possible, preferably through your bank or a state agency. For example, experts recommend using a mobile app or an income withholding arrangement mediated by your state.

    “You can allege that you made cash payments—the problem is demonstrating credibility,” comments Vasquez de Lara. “It’s a dangerous game of hoping that things happen the way that they should versus having the security that comes with having evidence to back up your claim.”
  • Partial payments
    A partial payment can create a string of issues when a custodial parent barely has enough money. Remember, the paying co-parent remains responsible for making all the payments promptly. 

    “If a parent is making partial payments, states have several options,” describes Herzberg. “If you’re a custodial parent and you can’t find your child’s payment, you need to file a report with your local child support agency to open a child support enforcement case. Then, a judge will look at the situation and determine whether back child support should be paid.”
  • Non-payment
    The paying co-parent typically has a certain number of days to pay their child support. When a parent fails to pay the monthly amount on time, the law considers them “in arrears,” which means they are past-due on child support payments. 

    “Unfortunately, if someone is unwilling to support their kids, it may not be an issue we can resolve amicably or easily,” says Vasquez de Lara. 

    In this situation, a court will typically order that the employer garnish the co-parent’s payments as soon as possible.

    “A non-payment order ordinarily means that the state takes money directly from the non-custodial co-parent’s paycheck to pay for child support,” explains Herzberg. “In such an extreme scenario, monitoring child support payments becomes a straightforward task.”

    Herzberg adds that it’s up to the paying co-parent to ensure the payments go smoothly. “If there is a problem with your employer’s withholding, you need to discuss it with your payroll office and correct the issue. You cannot just let it go.”
  • Unpredictable life events
    Life is unpredictable, and unexpected events can sometimes disrupt child support. For instance, a paying co-parent may lose their job. However, that parent remains responsible for providing the child support. In such uncertain times, having a robust tracking system in place is essential to ensure payment.

    Vasquez de Lara underscores the uncertainty of employment stability, stating, "There's never any guarantee that the payer will retain their job." She points out that an income deduction order is a valuable tool, as it applies to subsequent employers who are legally mandated to deduct wages within two weeks of receiving the order. In cases where the co-parent is unemployed, the state can garnish from their unemployment. 

    Emphasizing the importance of proper tracking, Vasquez de Lara adds, "Keeping meticulous records ensures the child's protection and helps all parties meet their obligations. Attempting to manage payments in a disorganized way may add to the existing stress.” 
  • Disputes over the amount owed
    When faced with a dispute, your tracking system can be a valuable resource for identifying the source of the problem and finding a resolution. In situations where both parties are individually recording receipts, conflicts may arise, potentially exacerbating the stress. However, employing a third-party tracking system that operates automatically can offer a high level of reliability and present an objective representation of the facts.

    Still, not all is lost if you have previously made payments in cash. 

    “If a dispute arises, you may be able to use your bank records to show withdrawals in the amount owed,” comments Herzberg.
  • Tense conflicts
    "Nobody wants to talk about child support," Knox laments. "The topic can spark numerous conflicts and disputes, often devolving into a blame game. However, with automated tracking, some disputes will lose their steam. Automated tracking provides a clear and undeniable record of the truth, effectively deflating unnecessary conflicts that lack substance or validity.”
  • Lost or missing records
    When records are lost or missing, a comprehensive tracking system can play a vital role in bridging the gaps. Electronic, indirect tracking methods are particularly advantageous in this scenario, as they can help recover lost or missing records. In the case of direct tracking methods, the absence of a record could potentially lead to credibility issues. If both parents cannot agree, they may need to return to court.

    The potential consequences of lost or missing records underscore why experts consistently advocate for electronic tracking through apps or income-withholding services. 

Proactive tips for keeping accurate records of child support payments 

To keep accurate records, experts recommend automated tracking.  Start tracking as soon as possible and monitor all shared expenses as well as child support. Also, make sure your tracking plan suits both parents.

Here are detailed tips for keeping accurate records and managing child support in general.

  • Don’t use direct payment
    “Direct payments can be a recipe for disaster,” says Vasquez de Lara. “At some point, you might lose a record or run into a disagreement that exposes the inefficiencies of your system. I always recommend incoming withholding or automatic payments through an app.”

    Herzberg shares the same view, noting: "Child support conflicts and challenges often stem from direct payments." Knox also agrees: “We’re paying for child support, not takeout. Don’t use cash. It’s common sense.”
  • Always request receipts or letters with cash payments
    If you must use cash for whatever reason, back it up with robust records. Here’s what Herzberg recommends: “In the case of future cash child support transactions, it is advisable to obtain a receipt or accompany the payment with a letter confirming its receipt. Ensure that copies of these acknowledgements are securely retained for your records.”
  • Communicate any issues immediately 
    "Whenever you spot a hiccup in your records," Vasquez de Lara suggests, "just shoot a friendly message to the other person. Let them know your tracking shows a missed payment, and they can look into it. Most times, this simple chat can help catch any mix-ups early and keep things on track."
  • Make sure your system is clear in your parenting plan 
    Knox underscores the significance of explicitly laying out your child support process in the parenting plan. "Any lack of clarity can lead to misinterpretation from one party or the other," Knox explains. "Ensure that your parenting plan equips you to accurately track records. Include specifics such as the amount the paying co-parent owes and when it's due. Describe the payment method, establish a clear payment schedule, and outline consequences for late payments. Additionally, incorporate guidelines for tracking and addressing past due payments."

    This level of detail not only prevents misunderstandings but also lays out a clear action plan. It establishes a solid foundation from which you can accurately track child support because you know what to expect and when.
  • Pick a system that you’ll stick with
    Different people work better with certain systems. While your co-parent might be all for apps, you might trust yourself more and want to use an Excel tracking system. It’s important to adjust to each other’s needs and make sure the plan is something that both co-parents will maintain, not avoid.

    “If the paying co-parent admits they have a hard time paying bills on time, then income withholding is a great option,” describes Knox. “It’s about understanding one another and working to create a system that’s convenient and feels comfortable.”
  • Track shared expenses, too
    Child support covers basic living expenses but doesn’t encompass everything your child will need to have a happy and healthy upbringing. It's essential to track shared expenses like extracurricular activities and medical bills.

    Herzberg suggests the following: "While you explore options for tracking child support, don't forget to keep tabs on your other child-related expenses. Child support often doesn't cover costs like medical co-pays or a child's extracurricular activities. Additionally, you should consider future expenses like college savings accounts. Keeping all your tracking in one system simplifies your life and provides a comprehensive view of expenses."
  • Use a comprehensive co-parenting app
    The easiest way to track child support is with an app that you can use to manage all other aspects of co-parenting, from your schedule to managing expenses.

    “Everyone prefers to avoid unnecessary stress related to financial matters or entanglements with the legal system,” Herzberg says. “While it may not always be possible to evade conflict entirely, being well-versed in child support regulations and utilizing optimal expense-tracking resources significantly enhances your chances of circumventing such disputes. Apps like OurFamilyWizard do most of the legwork for you, helping you skip the tense discussions around money and ensuring your family is on the same page. Regard this as a successful outcome in collaborative parenting.”
Mom and son on laptop.

Easiest way to track child support payments

The easiest way to track child support payments is to rely on a co-parenting app like OurFamilyWizard. With one app, you can track co-parenting expenses and send child support payments, plus manage all your other co-parenting tasks in one secure place.

Co-parenting comes with diverse responsibilities, from scheduling exchanges to managing finances. OurFamilyWizard offers a comprehensive solution to address the diverse needs of co-parents. When it comes to child support and shared expenses, OurFamilyWizard’s Expenses feature is designed to serve as a centralized hub for managing shared expenses and child support, ensuring that both co-parents have access to a single, convenient location for tracking and monitoring expenses. You can set up scheduled payments for child support that the app will send automatically. Plus, indisputable, automatic record-keeping eliminates unnecessary conflicts and eases the burden of keeping manual records.

What's more, you won't need to leave the app to make payments. With OFWpay, you can send payments directly, and the app will seamlessly update your financial records and manage any outstanding requests. It's a game-changer for simplifying co-parenting logistics. 

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Author's Bio:

Rebecca Perra is a family law attorney as well as a family law and dependency mediator. She also serves as the Judicial Education Coordinator for OurFamilyWizard. In this role, she educates judges, lawyers, and other family law professionals on the online tools that are used to reduce conflict and increase accountability in high-conflict co-parenting situations.