Martin and Margaret Nolan got married in 1962 and adopted three children.

When they divorced in 1974 in the District of Columbia, Martin agreed to pay $750 a month for child support.

Things got confusing when Martin made some payments to the schools and sent some money directly to the children. Margaret filed suit for $28,085 in back child support.

Martin claimed the parties had modified their agreement orally and by conduct (even though the agreement said it could only be modified in writing) and that he didn’t owe any back child support. Margaret denied she had agreed to waive child support.

The trial court decided that, while the agreement could have been modified orally or by conduct, the burden was on Martin to prove it, and he had failed to convince the judge of this. The Court of Appeals agreed. Nolan v. Nolan, 568 A.2d 479 (1990).

The lesson to learn from the Nolan case is this. If your ex-spouse agrees that you may pay child support directly to the school or the children instead of her, get it in writing. And if there is a court order for child support, ask the court to amend the order as well.