Income Withholding for Child Support Actions
Wage withholding is a method of paying child support by having the obligation taken directly out of the parent’s pay by the employer. Some parents voluntarily agree to wage withholding; others have it imposed upon them by a court.
Wage and income withholding is an effective method of assuring that future child support payments are made as well as a means of collecting any past due child support. Wage withholding permits an employer to deduct the monthly or weekly child support obligation directly from the wages due the parent and pay them either to the state agency, which collects child support on behalf of the parent, or directly to the parent. Income withholding permits any third party, who owes a regular payment to the parent who pays child support, such as pensions, annuities, or royalties, to withhold a stated amount for payment of child support. Most states have enacted laws that make wage withholding mandatory; however, wage and income withholding may be waived where there is a written agreement that provides for an alternative method of payment or there is a good reason to waive withholding, such as when the person is self-employed or has very inconsistent earnings.
In most situations, the amount of withholding is computed on a monthly basis and converted to the number of time periods in each year for which the parent is paid. If the parent is paid weekly, child support is deducted each week; if the parent is paid twice a month, one-half of each month’s support obligation is deducted from each paycheck. Where there is an arrearage that has been fixed, a percent of the monthly wage may be added to the regular withholding amount until the arrearage is paid in full. Often, the payment is made to the state agency responsible for collecting child support and then forwarded to the parent with custody of the child. The state agency is required to keep an account of each payment and can represent the custodial parent in any dispute over past due child support.
There are state and federal laws that limit the amount of withholding. Under federal law, no more than 60 percent of a parent’s earnings, after necessary withholding, can be taken for child support. That amount is reduced to 50 percent where that parent has a second family for which he or she is financially responsible. This law preempts less restrictive state laws. The federal government has exempted payments to federal employees for wages, pensions, and annuities from claims of sovereign immunity and these payments are subject to withholding. To the extent the payment is due to federal and military pensions, state laws as to whether pensions may be garnished apply, and such laws vary from state to state.
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