How do I get my ex-wife to return fraudulently received child support payments?

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Question:

My wife and I were divorced a few years back. In the divorce decree, we agreed that I would pay child support to her provided that our two sons were attending college full time (12 credits or more). For one and a half years my ex-wife accepted child support payments. Then I found out that our sons were only attending college part time (6 credits). Also, both sons are working, and leasing apartments. I went to court and succeeded in stopping my child support obligation. But now I want the $36,000-plus that my ex-wife fraudulently accepted returned to me. Can I sue her in civil court?

Answer:

Family courts are getting rather reluctant to deal with money-based disputes arising out of allegedly fraudulent conduct.

However, a civil suit can always be brought for breach of contract (and possibly fraud) -- and the divorce agreement is considered a legal contract between you and your ex-wife. A lawyer from your home state can tell you more. As a preliminary matter, make sure that you haven't reached the "statute of limitations" (expiration date) for bringing suit. (You can find the statute of limitations for your state in Chart: Statutes of Limitations in All 50 States.)

So it seems like civil court may be your most likely direction. But one warning before you take off: your divorce agreement may not be the only source of your obligation to pay child support. Some states mandate a certain level of support for minors or children attending school. If you were legally obliged to support the children under such laws, then your spouse might be able to subtract the amount of that required support from the support you are claiming was fraudulently paid. In other words, in going after the money, make sure you weren't obligated to pay all or a portion of it anyway.

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