In a divorce or child custody situation, a court may order economic support for the child with the expectation that the custodial parent will use the money to pay for materials and services that the child will need to live. The child support is used to cover such things as food and shelter, clothing, health care and education costs.

Why is Child Support Required?

Parents are legally responsible for providing financially for their children and failure to do so can result in serious legal consequences. In the case when two parents are no longer together, child support may be ordered to ensure the child continues to receive the economic benefit of the non-custodial parent.

It is ordered by the court as in the best interest of the child and is paid to the custodial parent. Child support usually is ordered for the child until they reach the age of majority as determined by individual states.

How is Child Support Determined?

The court applies the best-interest-of-the-child-standard formula in ordering support and in determining the amount of the award. Typically, this will include a review of the financial circumstances of each parent, honing in on various factors as determined by individual states.

While not exhaustive, some common factors that a court may consider in determining the amount of child support include the non-custodial parent’s gross monthly income, number of children, visitation, the child’s age and special needs (if any), and potential earnings.

How is a Child Support Award Enforced?

Sometimes the parent who is ordered to pay child support may disagree about the amount of payment or whether support should be paid at all. In the case of a non-complying parent, the custodial parent may seek the enforcement of the award. 

The federal and state government can can be quite helpful in assisting in the collection of child support from the non-complying parent through various enforcement options, including wage garnishment, tax fund seizure and placement of liens on property. Moreover, the non-custodial parent can be subjected to jail time or have their driver’s license suspended.

How Do You Automatically Withholding Income for Child Support?

In the event a parent refuses to provide ordered child support, the other parent can seek an order to have the non-complying parent’s income withheld automatically by the employer. When issued, the order requires that the employer withhold a specific amount of money as contained in the order, which is then made available to the custodial parent.

If an employer receives an income withholding order, the employer should immediately withhold the payment as ordered. Failure to do so can subject the employer to civil penalties and liability for the amount of the income that the employer failed to withhold.

There are federal limits for child support automatic withholding which are based on the employee’s disposable earnings. As well, the limits on the withholding can be increased or decreased depending how much behind the employee is on the child support payments. States may have limits that are lower than the federal limits.

What is Considered Income for an Automatic Withholding?

Automatic withholding is based on the employee’s disposable earnings. Disposable earnings is income (which can include bonuses, commissions, worker’s compensation, etc.) that remain after the deduction of applicable taxes and social security.

The child support payment will be ordered before other voluntary deductions. Additionally, tips are generally not included in disposable earnings, but paid time off payment can be.

What to Do if the Income Withholding Order is from Another State?

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) requires that if an employee is employed in a state different from the state where the income withholding order is issued, the out-of-state employer must still comply with the order.

Specifically, the employer must comply with the order as to medical support, duration of the payments, amount of current support payment, and amount of arrears.

How Does an Income Withholding Order Affect Other Types of Wage Garnishments?

It is not unusual for wage garnishment to be at issue even with an automatic income withholding order in place. In the event both are at issue, the income withholding will take priority over the wage garnishment.

The child support payments must be deducted from the disposable earnings before the wage garnishment. However, outstanding federal tax liens in existence before the child support order have priority over the child support payment order.

Why Would You Modify a Court Order for Child Support?

A child support order can be modified if there is a change in circumstances warranting the modification. Examples of changes in circumstances include:

Do I Need an Attorney If I Have Issues with Income Withholding for Child Support?

Income withholding for purpose of satisfying a child support order and child recovery efforts can vary according to each state. To ensure you are protecting your rights to recover child support payment, consult with a child support attorney.