At one time, if a parent failed to pay child support, the custodial parent was out of luck. The state would send plenty of notices to try to encourage payment, but with few results. Over the years, though, a combination of legislation and technology has made penalties much harsher on parents who don’t pay. In fact, nonpaying parents in the 21st century might find the money taken out of their wages and tax refunds. In more recent years, states have earned the right to take the money directly out of a nonpayer’s bank account, but there are things you can do if you fear this might happen to you.
Depending on your state's requirements, you might have the funds taken from your bank account if you fall behind on child support payments. This usually happens if you fall more than a month behind or reach a certain dollar amount, and you can expect to receive notice beforehand.
Seizure of Funds
When you’re ordered to pay child support, it is, in essence, a judgment against you. As with any legal judgment, it gives the courts the right to order funds to be taken from your earnings. The law varies from state to state, but courts have been reaching further over the years to make sure the custodial parent gets paid. One route many states are taking is to seize the money from a payer’s bank account.
Amount in Arrears
The procedure for freezing your bank account varies from one state to the next, but state regulators usually won’t touch your account if you’re only a month behind. In Massachusetts, however, you won’t get much longer. Once you’re at least $1,500, or six weeks, behind on payment, the Department of Revenue can send a levy to the bank to take the money. The levy will remain until child support is paid, but the state will seize funds only in excess of $5,000. In Arizona, you’ll be given only $250 to live on unless you have other federally or state-exempt funding sources. But Arizona won’t continue to take money out after that initial seizure.
How Garnishment Works
When money is taken from your bank account, you usually will know. States will send a notice that the garnishment will be taking place, in addition to any other late notices you’ve received. The procedure is to take the money and have the account-holder fight to get it back. If you’ve had money taken from your account, you should contact your local child support enforcement office to ask what you need to do to challenge the levy.
How to Prevent Garnishment
Of course, the best way to prevent garnishment is to pay your child support on time every month. Most states will allow you to set up payments so that they’re directly debited from your account. This will avoid missing a payment by accident. If you have a situation that prevents this, it’s always best to contact your assigned caseworker to see what you can work out. You may be able to prove that the levy will cause you undue hardship and stall the action for a time. Even after you’ve received a letter notifying you that your bank account will be levied, it’s best to find out if there’s something you can do to prevent it. You might find that you’re able to make small payments on the overdue balance and avoid more dramatic measures. In some situations, nonpaying parents can be put in jail for contempt of court for failing to pay. In some states, such as Maryland, your occupational license or driver's license can be suspended for non-payment of child support.
- State of Massachusets: Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Division – Enforcement Actions
- Arizona Department of Economic Security: Financial Institution Data Match (Levy)
- DadsDivorce: What Are My Options If the DOR Puts a Levy on My Account?
- Nolo: Contempt of Court for Failure to Obey Child Court Ordered Child Support
Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a ghostwriter for a credit card processing service and has ghostwritten about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, Ecommerce Insiders, GoBankingRates, and ThriveBy30.