A wage assignment is an order issued by a court. A wage assignment assigns (transfers) a portion of a person’s wages from that individual to another. There are a variety of different types of wage assignments. A child support wage assignment order is issued to direct transfer of child support payments from an individual to their spouse.

Who Does a Court Issue a Wage Assignment To?

Courts issue wage assignment orders (sometimes referred to as wage garnishment orders) to the employer of the parent without custody of the child. This parent is known as the non-custodial parent, or the parent with visitation rights. The order directs the employer to make a deduction from the employees’ wages. That is, the employer must withhold a certain amount of money from the employee’s wages from the employee and set the money aside for child support payment purposes.

Employers must comply with these orders under state and federal law. Employers who fail to abide by the wage assignment order may be held in contempt of court. Being held in contempt of court can subject an employer to penalties and fines, in addition to the money owed under the order.

What are the Contents of a Child Support Wage Assignment Order?

The order contains information about how much income is to be withheld per pay period, as well as how the employer is to make payments under the order. The order also provides for when each withholding must take place. The order contains a provision that indicates the maximum amount that can be withheld for child support per pay period.

Is there a Limit to How Much an Employer can Withhold?

The Consumer Credit Protection Act, a federal law, places a limit on the total amount of an individual’s wages that can be withheld for child support. Under this law, if a wage earner is currently supporting a dependent child, up to 50% (but no more) of that earner’s “disposable income” may be  withheld by an employer for child support. 

If a wage earner is not currently supporting a dependent child, up to 60% (but no more) of that earner’s “disposable income” may be withheld for child support.

What is “Disposable Income”?

Income that is classified “disposable income” may be garnished or withheld. Disposable income (sometimes referred to as “disposable earnings”) is the amount of wages that are left after an employer makes other deductions required under state or federal law. These other deductions include deductions for:

  • Income taxes (state, local, and federal taxes);
  • Social Security and Medicare taxes (together, these taxes are referred to as Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes, or “FICA” taxes);
  • State unemployment insurance taxes;
  • State disability insurance taxes; and
  • State retirement system taxes

Can an Employee be Terminated for Wage Garnishment?

State laws prohibit discrimination or retaliation due to wage garnishment. That is, state laws prevent employers from disciplining or terminating employees because their wages are subject to garnishment for child support. In addition, state laws prevent employers from refusing to hire individuals who have wages garnished for child support. If an employer terminates an employee because that employee is the subject of a wage garnishment order, most states allow that employee to sue the employer. The employee can seek reinstatement of employment. The employee can also seek “back wages” that they would have received if they were not terminated.

In some states, retaliating against an employee subject to wage garnishment is a crime. The employer who commits this crime is subject to fines, and, in some states, jail time. Retaliation may also constitute contempt of court. An employer who is held in contempt of court is subject to fines and damages. An employer held in contempt of court may be ordered to pay restitution. Restitution is payment of wages the employee would have earned had they not been retaliated against. 

Can Individuals Voluntarily Agree to Pay Child Support?

Most states allow spouses to enter into voluntary child support agreements. Under a voluntary child support agreement, the parents agree to the amount one is to pay the other. This differs from involuntary child support orders, in which a court decides the amount and imposes it on the parents. Courts tend to honor voluntary child support agreements. 

In some states, as long as payments are being made under the voluntary agreement, wage assignment or garnishment orders may be put on hold. In these states, the wage assignment order only “reactivates” if a parent stops making payments.

Do I Need Help with Child Support Wage Assignments?

Parents who must pay child support, parents who are entitled to receive it, and employers who are ordered to withhold money for child support, should all contact a child support attorney. An experienced child support lawyer can help explain rights and obligations and can represent you in court.