VA says either child support or apportionment


I read your response on the difference between an apportionment and child support, and I'm even more confused now! Specifically, I have legal custody of my grandson who is 15 yrs old and his father is a Gulf war veteran. I was awarded child support from him in 2004, but have just recently learned about the "apportionment". He is 13,000.00 in arrears on the child support, and is currently not paying. I was encouraged to file for an apportionment, but the person I spoke to at the VA said I am only entitled to one or the other. Does that mean if I choose to receive the apportionment that I am no longer eligible for the child support?

Jim's Reply:

No, that is not correct. Using a word like apportionment is typical VA...hard to define and ambiguous as all get-out. The word garnishment is more appropriate but it is what it is. In a nutshell, VA will "portion out" a piece of his disability payment and send it directly to you to satisfy the child support arrearages. That happens if VA agrees with you that he can provide (x) dollars of support from his disability payment. The money is not meant to be equal to what the obligation to you is. VA has a duty to the veteran that says they must determine his status first and foremost. If they determine he can't afford to have any money apportioned (portioned out, garnished) from his monthly benefit, you'll get a letter telling you that. Otherwise VA takes the obligation to the veterans family seriously and they usually end up taking a % and sending it to you. Interestingly, VA will not send the money to a state agency for recording and disbursement which is normal in some states. VA will only send it to you and if you don't notify the state agency, he may still be responsible for the payment since it wasn't recorded as the law requires. The bottom line is that you are due child support by a court order and nothing about apportionment will change that.

I have to qualify all this by saying that since you aren't the ex-spouse, that will throw VA for a loop. How you define "legal custody" may not meet the standard that VA will try to impose. There are tons of rules and regs.

If you file for apportionment and are denied, then it's time to lawyer up. Don't call VA and seek guidance, please. When we wonder about benefits, it's almost always best to simply file for them. Until you file the appropriate form, nothing can or will happen. Once you file, you'll soon enough know if you were correct and your issue will be on the way to being resolved.  If you dialed the infamous VA 1-800 number, you spoke with a call center that has been harshly criticized in any number of VAOIG reports as beyond less than proficient in providing correct and timely information. The call centers aren't really connected into the VA regional offices and the phones aren't answered by knowledgeable raters. Once they answer the phone, they have 3 minutes to get you off the line so they can make their quota. File the apportionment claim.