Home > divorce, divorce modification, family law general, paternity/child custody > The Office of Recovery Services: What Have They Done For You Lately?

The Office of Recovery Services: What Have They Done For You Lately?

*Note:  another super-specifically Utah post…The other states have their own equivalent collection agencies, but I can’t speak to how they do business. *

I recently received the following question from a reader:

“I keep hearing nasty things about ORS (Office of Recovery Services). I’ve never opened a case with them before, but after getting stiffed for 2 1/2 years (in an attempt to keep the peace because my ex-husband tends to get verbally abusive when I don’t let him do what he wants), I finally opened a case to collect. But tonight I heard from some lady who opened a case that ORS never collects and she is forced to make up the difference by working extra. My question is not for the well-meaning parent who may get behind … I’m wondering if I just got bad information. Honestly, I got a fraction of what was owed me every month from my ex, but when he finds out I went to ORS and pitches a massive fit, I’ll get nothing unless ORS *actually* collects.

Is their reputation that bad? Have I demolished a working civil relationship (working, all except for the money) for an angry ex who won’t even be forced to pay? I’m extremely worried and don’t know who to believe.

Also, my ex lives in CA and ORS has his current work info, but he may be moving to a different workplace. By the time he moves, if he does, he’ll have been contacted by ORS and will not volunteer his new work information. Will they still be able to find him?

… I’ve been having a hard time finding info on this one that wasn’t tainted by angry ex wives with husbands in jail or couched in government lingo that seems to be inexplicable on purpose.”

This is a good bunch of questions.  I have my own opinions about the ORS, based on my personal experience (and biases), but this is my take on it:

The ORS is a government agency in Utah tasked with collecting payments on support orders (alimony and child support) for divorce and custody cases entered in Utah, OR in helping other states with their own collection efforts on individuals who live in Utah but did not get their court order in Utah.  ORS is very good at doing their job, in normal circumstances.  Normal circumstances are:  Your ex is W-2 employee at a company that is not paying him under the table; Your ex remains at a job longer than a few months at a time; Your ex is willing to cooperate with them in providing income information (this last one he has less power over if he is a W-2 employee who is NOT being paid largely under the table, because the company will get Notice of Withholding and provide the info themselves.)

The way the agency works is that they collect income information, generally from the individual obligor (the one who pays).  Under federal law, ORS is required to send out a Notice of Withholding to the obligor’s employer, whether they are garnishing paycheck or not, just to inform the employer that that possibility is out there.  ORS can simply be the clearing house for collecting the funds voluntarily paid on a support order, and then disbursing them to the obligee (the one who gets paid).  In the alternative, ORS can garnish wages to collect child support.  It takes a couple of months usually to get everything squared away for collection, though, so if the obligor decides to leave his/her employment, ORS has to start all over again, and you don’t get child support collected until they get things updated.  If the ex just stays put at his job, the ORS can do a pretty good job of collecting through garnishing wages.

If you ex does not fit into the “normal circumstances” noted above, good luck.  It is EXTREMELY difficult to garnish the self-employed, people who get paid under the table by an employer, or those who switch jobs regularly.  I don’t want to say impossible, but it’s pretty close to that.

The reason ORS gets a bad name is that while they are good at the collecting and accounting once they get it going, they don’t have the best processes in place to make sure that they have accurate information, and there is a fair amount of institutional disinterest, to put it nicely, in doing the job as it should be done.  For those of us who have had to deal with the Nasty side of ORS, we are commonly met with people who do not know what’s going on in our cases, people who attempt to enforce orders that don’t exist, and an agency that continuously sends out 10 pages of threats about the hell they will make our lives if we don’t do everything they said (whether they are using good information to make the threats or not.)

Bottom line:  ORS is good at what they do, when they don’t have to do anything particularly special to get it done.  They will not “investigate” people who are doing their level best to dodge them, but they CAN make the obligor’s life something of a hell.  Which is sometimes enough incentive to get the child support paid on time and in full.  OR enough incentive to get them to switch jobs/get paid under the table/otherwise dodge the agency.  I tend to discourage my clients from using the Office of Recovery Services unless it’s absolutely necessary, largely because of the tension that using them can create between the parties.  If you don’t have other options, go for it.  Just be ready for the fallout.

(For official information regarding the Office of Recovery Services here in Utah, including contact info, see their webpage.)

  1. January 17, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Thank you for this post. In the military we have a saying: “Hurry up and wait.” I feel it will be much the same for me and the case I opened with ORS for my ex-husband. I’ve got the info they need (if he changes jobs, I guess it will be up to him to report it, or up to me to get it from him and report it myself, or my loss if he decides to become self-employed — which he may; his girlfriend’s father is self-employed, and the risk of job insecurity might be worth it if he discovers that he can’t be garnished that way), and I don’t mind jumping through a few hoops to help the process along. This post helps me refine my expectations. For now, all I can do is wait to see if ORS is able and willing to do its job.

    Many thanks again.


  2. January 31, 2013 at 8:53 am

    I deal with the ORS regularly, and I do not get the results I need. I have an order from the judge, that they have a copy of, stating I should receive garnishments from my ex for the child support. It has been several months and they have not followed through with it. Every time I call they say it will take another week. That has been for over 6 months. My ex is still skipping payments and they do not do their job. I feel like as a collection agency they are very poor, if you can find another way to get your money, do that.


  3. Becky
    February 28, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    My experience with ORS has been worth the sometimes lengthy phone calls or lost paperwork. ORS eliminates the he-said/she-said story of child support.

    Because my ex is frequently either collecting unemployment or deployed overseas, working with ORS has enabled me to receive child support at these times at a minimum, and sometimes from an employer when ex stays at a job long enough. The other benefit is that ORS will seize the ex’s tax return once he is several thousand dollars behind.

    Is it occasionally a pain? Yes. Worth the pain? Yes.


    • March 1, 2013 at 9:46 am

      And I am THRILLED to hear that it works for people! That’s the whole point behind having the ORS and using them. Thanks for sharing your positive experience.


  4. Steve
    April 29, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    From the payor’s perspective ORS is a royal pain. They are only interested in collecting money for the recipient come hell or high water. I have been making regular (direct deposit every payday) payments to my ex who got tired of me deducting what was specifically allowed and turned the case over to ORS. ORS disallowed some of the deductions from the stipulation and decree (e.g. insurance payments up until she filed) and my ex refuses to reimburse me for them so now I have to go back to court again to collect what I already paid. The really sad part is that I will be adding on my legal fees and they will probably be equal to or more than the actual amount. ORS also does not help me with collecting for her share of deductibles or copays which I, as the policy holder, am held accountable for by the medical provider which will eventually translate into more court trips as I finally give up and seek help with getting her to do her part. She works part time and barters time for cigarettes so she has little “income” to report, yet they count my disability pay as income for me. It’s not always the fathers who are the deadbeats.


  5. May 27, 2013 at 11:27 pm


    My ex-husband complied a little with ORS and began making partial payments. ORS garnished his tax return as payment for some of his back child support. However, his employers in CA did not ever submit confirmation that ex was an employee, and soon thereafter he was terminated, so I never got any wage garnishment, and now I don’t get anything. At least I got his tax return and was able to save mine — combined I got myself a little buffer, which I am steadily eating through until I can rent a cheaper place when my lease is up in July (seeing as I am out all child support payments until or unless the ex files for unemployment and CA is working with ORS to garnish that).

    But I have a different question, unrelated, and maybe you can help me out:

    (EDIT: I read through your custody modification posts but am still not sure my question was answered. Thanks in advance for reading through my question.)

    I’d like to homeschool my kids and the ex is dead-set against it. However, it’s been more than a year since he’s even seen them and he calls on average once a week (and makes no child support payments). If the kids are lucky, they see him for 4 days once a year (though no plans for a visit this year so far), and now I receive no financial support from him whatsoever, despite ORS’s involvement.

    So far as I understand, he has no criminal record — he’s just absent. I can’t proceed with plans for homeschooling unless we either agree or I have sole legal custody, right? Is it worth looking into to getting a request for custody modification, or do the children have to be in danger?

    I don’t want to put my kids through a custody battle, and will forgo the homeschooling (though I’m loathe to do so) if it means that the kids will avoid getting dragged through court. But if the ex has such minimal contact, why should he be able to negate any decision I’d like to make concerning our kids? He doesn’t support them in any way. What can I expect from the legal system in Utah?

    Thanks SO much for your help with the child support question. Though I get less now (nothing) than I ever did, I’m not sorry I contacted ORS, and the ex can’t run from them forever, though I believe he will try.

    Regards and positive vibes,



  6. John
    July 12, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    I believe he will try and succeed as well, unfortunately. My wife’s ex-husband owes 26,000 in back child support. He went 2 1/2 years without making a payment and ORS didn’t do anything. They could suspend his drivers license and they would not…it’s a scare tactic that’s it. They could send his case to the attorney generals office and they refuse to do it. They make a few phone calls, send some letters and leave it at that. If he doesn’t respond they won’t do anything. He doesn’t pay taxes and the IRS doesn’t go after him because “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze” at the end of the day. He moved to Idaho briefly and so Idaho sent his paperwork to their attorney general who sent him to court. He paid for 7 months, moved back to Utah and we haven’t had a payment in 5 months. They yelled at my wife the last time we contacted them. Her ex-husband hasn’t paid one dime of childcare in the 6 years we have been married, he hasn’t paid one dime for health insurance or medical bills and just in child support he owes 26,000…that’s a lot to me. To top it all off he doesn’t see his kids except when he feels like it. His child support would be much higher if this were factored in, but of course it isn’t. I could go back to court, but what would be the point? We would get a judgement for more money we would never collect. To all the parents out there who don’t pay their child support, I believe there is a special place in Hell for you. You aren’t just hurting your ex-spouse you are hurting your children. You will get what you deserve one day.


    • July 12, 2013 at 1:05 pm

      I believe it’s worth noting that not ALL parents who are behind on child support or can’t pay are doing it to spite the ex, or are hurting their kids. There are many many MANY unjust orders out there, and many many MANY broke obligors out there as well. I worked a case where the custodial parent makes in excess of $100k per year, is remarried, has no childcare expenses at all (new wife is a stay at home mom and is raising his kids). His ex did not have a lawyer (she couldn’t afford one) and was eviscerated in the divorce. She has always been broke, and has struggled for years to just support herself while still trying to pay child support. She also pays a considerable amount in other child expenses, that don’t count as a credit toward her for child support–stuff like school and activity fees, clothes and shoes for the kids, haircuts, spending money, car insurance, gas money, school lunch money, etc.

      So I believe there is also a special place in hell for custodial parents who are using child support to fund their vacations/retirement accounts, and use the system to crush their ex spouses. But that’s just my two-cents.


    • Steve
      February 18, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      Update: ORS refered the case to the AG after 6 years. He owes 40k between 2 cases and was ordered to spend 5 days in jail if he doesn’t begin making payments. It’s been 30 days and I haven’t received anything…he has 60 days to go.


  7. July 12, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    My ex falls somewhere in between. ORS has put a levy on his back account and he occasionally sends $20 in the mail for the kids. I’ve gotten to the point where I can live without the child support and view it as vacation money or extra bonuses for the kids (my new lifestyle may perhaps be incentive for my ex-husband to pay.. “Hey yeah, we just moved into a trailer park. It’s across the street from the city cemetery,” even though we are happy there and don’t feel wanting.) Regardless of my ex’s motives, it’s up to me to support the kids because he’s not doing it. Surprisingly, this has been easier than I thought it would be and has set my mind at rest a little regarding money that may or may not come.

    Thanks again for this post — I was pretty scared to open a case with ORS, but so far they’ve been doing an okay job. My ex owes about $15,000 in back child support, but like I said, now that I’ve learned to live within my means, all that money is just a bonus for us. I do wish my ex would be more involved with the kids, though, even if he doesn’t pay. He’s not doing himself any favors by being so absent.


  8. LULU
    May 8, 2014 at 8:57 am

    I am upset with ORS’ enforcement of divorce decrees. My husband’s decree states that he pays alimony to his ex until she cohabitates or remarries. She moved into her fiance’s home in April and she is remarrying on May 17th however ORS is garnishing the full amount of alimony for May. Shouldn’t it be terminted on the 17th? It is so frustrating and yet it will probably cost more in lawyer fees to enforce WHAT IS ALREADY ORDERED!!! SO assinine!!!!!!


  9. June 24, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Is it possible to file a lawsuit against ORS for fraud and theft? From my understanding, ORS is an enforcement agency, not a policy or decision making entity. My husband has a divorce decree with very standard wording for visitation. It says “every other holiday and 1/2 of the summer.” It goes on to state that he’s not responsible for the full amount of child support during visits where we have the children longer that 15 days since we’re providing the support while they’re with us. ORS has decided (on their own, despite the divorce decree signed by a judge) that the divorce decree needs to specify “Specific dates” and not just say “longer than 15 days.” Because of their own interpretation of the decree they have begun illegally garnishing my husbands wages without notification to him. When he called ORS to find out what the garnishment was for, he was told it was for the back child support from when we has the kids over the summer. We have provided plane tickets, itineraries from the visit and another copy of the divorce decree with no results. We were told by Tiffany (our case worker at ORS) that there’s nothing we can do because the decree is “too vague.” So if it was good enough for a judge to sign, and we have to follow the decree or fear contempt of court charges, how can ORS disregard it?
    We have never been late with a Child Support payment, and often pay early. I have never seen an agency treat a parent like a “deadbeat” like I did when we began interacting with ORS. It’s disgraceful that this is a government agency that is paid by my tax dollars (I.E: I pay your part of your salary to be treated like this??)
    Any suggestions are very much appreciated.


    • November 12, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      While you’d have better luck suing a charging bull than suing ORS, your best option is to file a Petition to Modify the decree with the court, and simply request that the provision be clarified based on the information you have received from ORS. That’s really your best (and only) option. ORS runs independent of the court, and can make your life hell. But do remember that they are simply doing what their told in a bureaucratic state agency, and try not to take out your frustration on the phone rep or the case worker. And I AM sorry.


  10. March 30, 2015 at 10:18 am

    I’m the CP and I can’t stand dealing with ORS. I dread having to call them. The hour-long wait on the phone for snotty responses from “customer service” reps who are anything but customer friendly and regularly give out incorrect information. You’re not allowed to talk to the officers that enforce the cases and know the law unless “they call you” so you just have to hand ORS the ball and let them run with it. If & when they mess up their calculations, you’ll be the one back in court with your ex, not them. Their record-keeping leaves something to be desired. They actually sent me another parties’ case information once, complete with their SSN/addresses/names. Their only response was: “Oh can you please send it back to us?” ….. that’s the kind of response you get for a privacy & GRAMA violation. And ORS doesn’t work with the parents like other states do. It’s their way or no way. Not to mention, my ex-husband worked for several months and ORS didn’t collect until I personally took him to court for contempt. Modifications are an entirely different nightmare. Do it pro-se or get an attorney. Don’t rely on ORS. Make them an absolute last resort.


  11. Michelle
    April 28, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    ORS is the furthest thing from helpful and well at helping. They are a lazy, snide, disrespectful, and threatening entity. They don’t do even 10% of what they’re supposed to do. The people that work there don’t do their job, they lie, they fail to send you paperwork until the last minute, or if at all. They decided they are above a judges decision and actually told me I was “getting too much money” even though it was ordered by the judge. So they took it upon themselves to reduce my support and then tell me to not bother taking it to court because the AG works for them and they’ll just supersede the judge again.
    They aren’t collecting the arrears. And have cut my sorry more than 75% although my ex makes almost 50k a year. I get a lousy 1k a month now for 4 kids.
    So please, tell me again how they’re good at their job?
    Did someone pay you to say that? Maybe someone from ORS and they probably used someone’s child support to do it.


    • May 13, 2015 at 8:09 pm

      I’m trying to give ORS the benefit of the doubt. They’ve never done me any favors, either, believe me. Mostly they made me want to bang my head against the wall. Just remember: These are people who deal with people who are mad at them everyday. They didn’t cause the problem, and they are more than likely not getting paid enough to be yelled at as much as they are. I, very THANKFULLY, have finally gotten out from under the ORS Thumb. But I do advise my clients (and anyone else) to try and stay calm and polite with the people answering the phone at ORS. They didn’t create your situation. And as a family court commissioner said in open court to a client of mine one day: “I don’t have the emotional energy to weep with you.” I imagine the ORS worker doesn’t either. 😦


  12. August 24, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Being the one receiving payments can be equally distasteful. Especially if you don’t live in the US. I have had nothing but headaches from them for years. I’d almost rather get no child support than have to deal with them anymore. They couldn’t even find my ex till the order was sent to the state we were married in. And now that they sort of have updated information, they use disbursement programs that are unreliable and extremely complicated for those of us who aren’t living on American soil. And all the phone systems are automated, so if you eventually talk to a human, they might as well be robots. I wish I could sue them for the money I don’t have access to because they are too stupid to communicate with anyone.


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