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Behind on child support payments? Your stimulus check could be affected

As a result of federal legislation that was passed into law in late March, most American families became eligible for federal stimulus payments. These payments essentially act as advances on your 2020 tax refunds. However, they could not come at a better time given the economic uncertainty created by the Corona virus shutdowns of the economy locally and nationally. 

These stimulus payments may be impacted by your child support status in terms of whether or not you owe back child support tier child's other parent. In today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we would like to provide you with some information on how these two subjects interact with one another and whether or not your payments could be in jeopardy. 

Who collects child support payments on behalf of custodial parents in Texas?

the state agency who has oversight and authority over child support in Texas is the office of the attorney general. The Child Support division of the office of the attorney general employees’ staff and attorneys whose job it is to administer the receipt in transmission of child support to the custodial parent. As a result of your divorce it is likely that the final decree of divorce specifies that child support payments are to go through the office of the attorney general rather than to have payments made directly from you to your ex-spouse. 

The benefit to having payments go through the office of the attorney general is twofold. One, if you are the custodial parent you have a means by which child support is paid consistently on time in the correct amount each month it is owed. If you are the parent who pays child support, you have an online Ledger showing how much child support has been paid how much money is owed, if any, as well as information about how to ensure child support is paid correctly in the event of a job change. 

Most of the time after a family law case a wage withholding order is signed by a judge and sent to your employer. This order will require your employer to divert a portion of your paycheck at the beginning of the month to go toward child support through the office of the attorney general. You can think of this setup as similar to the automatic bill payments which you may have on you on your utilities or mortgage each month. Ultimately, you are responsible for ensuring proper payment of child support, but the theory is that the office of the attorney general will do much of the legwork for you in this regard. 

What, if anything, can get in between your money in the office of the attorney general? 

Some of you may be familiar with how the Internal Revenue Service can intercept you are tax refund in apply any money that you would have been receiving towards and arrears in your tax payments. There are federal laws on the books that require child support agencies like the office of the attorney general to have procedures in place that can collect past due child support from federal tax refunds. 

As far as the active Congress, which was passed into law regarding the federal stimulus, the same concept applies. What this means for you on a practical level is that if you owe child support to your child's other parent the office of the attorney general may intercede and collect any money that would be going towards your bank account and instead apply that money towards any child support arrearage that exists.

It is not a certainty, however, that your federal stimulus check will be applied towards the Child Support arrears. There are federal laws and regulations that apply here which we do not have space to discuss. These regulations will determine whether your stimulus payment is intercepted and applied to the Child Support owed In Texas. A good rule of thumb is that if the total amount of passed to child support on all of your child support cases is less than $500 it is unlikely that the Child Support agency in Texas will intercept your federal stimulus check

Will you know in advance whether or not your federal stimulus payment will be applied to your child support arrearage? 

I have had potential clients asked me whether or not they will actually find out in advance if their stimulus payment is going to go toward child support or whether or not it will actually end up in their bank account. The answer is that yes, you will be notified in advance if the payment has been intercepted and will go towards you are child support arrearage. 

You would have been sent a notice when your case was submitted for a federal tax refund offset. Our federal government would then send an offset notice to you when your stimulus payment has been intercepted by the Texas office of the attorney general. The notice will tell you that your stimulus payment has been applied to your child support arrearage. In the event that you believe that this was an error or mistake you may contact the Child Support division of the office of the attorney general. 

If you are married to a person who owes child support could your stimulus payment be intercepted as well? 

Here is another question that may be relevant to some of you reading this blog post. Suppose that you have remarried, and your new spouse is do a stimulus payment as well. Kid his or her payment also be intercepted given their relationship to you and that payment utilized to pay towards your child support arrearage in Texas? 

It is possible that your spouse’s stimulus check payment could be intercepted in applied towards your child support arrearage. However, your spouse may be able to gain some relief by filing an injured spouse claim and allocation form. You may check either the office of the attorney general's website in Texas or the Internal Revenue service’s website to gain access to this form. You should carefully review the form, fill it out, and submit it as soon as possible. It is always good practice to then follow up in a week or so to see if the form has been received.

The IRS may offset a portion of your spouse’s payment. The IRS is aware that in some cases a portion of your spouse’s payment has been impacted bye you're owing child support. From what I understand the IRS is working to remedy the situation so that future payments that are made do not get treated in this way. Once this issue is resolved your spouse will be able to receive their portion of the stimulus check payment while yours is still applied to the Child Support arrearage that is owed.

What if your child is on Medicaid? Will you receive any money from a stimulus check intercepted by the government from the non-custodial parent of your child? 

Let's talk for a second from the perspective of a parent who is the custodial parent. The custodial parent of a child is the parent that the child lives with on a primary basis. In child support terms the custodial parent is the parent who receives child support. A non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent each month. 

In some cases, your child may be on government assistance of some sort. Whether that's for benefits in regard to food or medical care through Medicaid. It is a worthwhile question to ask if you are the custodial parent whether or not your child receiving Medicaid will negate your ability to receive any benefit from the intercepted stimulus payment of the non-custodial parent. Put another way: will the intercepted stimulus payment from your ex-spouse actually make it to you in the form of child support? 

Yes, it is possible that an intercepted stimulus check payment could be applied to your child support Ledger. There are federal laws which dictate how money received from a Child Support Agency like the office of the attorney general is distributed. For Texans, these intercepted payments are first applied to any arrears go to the state and then if any money is leftover then that money could be paid to you as child support arrearage. 

The amount of money that you are entitled to receive depends on a number of factors which includes how much money was intercepted, how many cases are open in which your ex-spouse owes child support, and the amounts of each case. If you do not have an active case with the Child Support division of the office of the attorney general in regard to any child support arrearage than you will not be able to receive any intercepted money from the federal stimulus program. 

What if your child is not on Medicaid? Will you be able to get any child support out of the payments intercepted by the office of the attorney general? 

If the non-custodial parent in your situation owes you child support in the total amount of child support that is owed on all of his or her cases is greater than $500 then you should be able to receive money intercepted by the office of the attorney general. I would refer you back to the section of today's blog post which notes then it must be a rather significant amount of money that is owed for the office of the attorney general to be involved. If your ex-spouse owes you $200 in child support, then I would not expect any money to go towards your child support.

The specific amount of money that you ultimately receive will depend on a number of factors which includes the amount of the stimulus check payment that is intercepted, the amount that is owed to you in child support, and the number of total cases of child support that your ex-spouse has active with the office of the attorney general. I will note once again that you need to have an active child support case with the office of the attorney general in order to potentially receive any money. 

How long before a custodial parent stands to receive any of the payments that are intercepted? 

If your ex-spouse filed a joint tax return, then any payment will be held for up to four months after the end of the month it was received. However, if your ex-spouse filed an individual tax return then the payment will be distributed immediately to you. In this way it functions similar to the regular child support payments that you receive. 

in the event that you are owed child support, whether that amount is big or small, it is not wise two sit on your hands and do nothing about it. It is possible that the office of the attorney general may eventually get around to filing an enforcement lawsuit against your non-custodial parent, but that may take a very long time. Even if the office of the attorney general eventually steps in and filed an enforcement case keep in mind that the agency does not represent you as a parent but rather represents the state of Texas in this matter. 

For this reason, it is advisable that you look into and begin researching the possibility of hiring an experienced family law attorney to represent you. This is the best and most efficient way to recover any child support owed to you and to ensure that featured child support payments are not missed. 

Questions about child support payments that are owed to you? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan 

if you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week. These consultations can be had in person, over the phone, or via video. We look forward to talking with you about the services our law office can provide you and your family with. 

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