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Can my stimulus check be used for past due child support I owe?

by | May 22, 2020 | Child Support, Child Support Modification |

If you’re familiar with how child support works in Texas, you know that the Office of the Attorney General can get money to parents in a variety of ways.

It can come out of a parent’s check directly through that parent’s employer. (In fact, that’s how 80 percent of child support is paid in the state.)

It can, in delinquent cases, “file a lien on properties, bank accounts, retirement plans, life insurance plans, personal injury claims, insurance settlements or awards and other assets,” according to its website.

And now, as some Texas parents are about to discover (or have already discovered), money can be automatically taken out of the stimulus checks coming from the federal government in response to the pandemic.

There’s an explainer on the OAG’s website that says why this is happening. It’s simply something that’s baked into the law passed earlier this year, allowing states a tool to enforce child support payments, at a time when — as we discussed last week — it’s harder for parents to pay child support they owe.

According to the site, “Federal law requires child support agencies to have procedures to collect past due child support from federal tax refunds. In the federal stimulus bill, the CARES Act, Congress did not exempt the stimulus rebate payments from federal offsets for child support arrears.”

Whether a parent will have money intercepted from his or her check depends on the arrears amount. The OAG site notes, “If TANF has been received for your child, the total amount of past due support on all of your child support cases must be at least $150. If TANF has not been received for your child, the total amount of past due support on all of your child support cases must be at least $500.”

If you have money taken out for back child support, you will receive a letter informing you this happened, as well the amount taken out — though if you’ve already had your stimulus check applied via direct deposit, as many Americans already have, the notification may not come until after the adjusted amount has arrived.

(Indeed, if you owed child support and received less than you expected, you may have figured out what happened prior to getting a letter. The amount, which is still to come to some Americans in the form of a check, is $1200 per adult in the household and $500 per child.)

It’s also worth noting that if you are married to someone who owes child support, there’s no differentiation between your portion of the stimulus check and your spouses. If your spouse owes $1500 in past due child support, the OAG can take the full amount — they won’t just stop at your spouse’s $1200!

With OAG child support offices still closed to the public, the best way to figure out what you owe is to go to the OAG’s Child Support Interactive site. You’ll need your eight-digit member ID number in order to access it (and, confusingly, it is not the same as your eight-digit case number), but once you have it, you can see what you’ve paid over the past year as well as the amount of any child support still owed (in the “Arrears” section).

As we emphasized last week, you’re on the hook for the monthly amount specified in your decree, regardless of whether or not you’ve recently lost your job or lost income. The two best pieces of advice we can give, if the amount taken out of your stimulus check will only temporarily cover your obligations, is to let the OAG know you’re experiencing hardship (so they can factor that into enforcement), and to work with a lawyer or the OAG Child Support Office on a modification.

If you don’t think your ex will work with you in a mediation, the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance is happy to meet with you to get started on adjusting your decree to better reflect your current reality.