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Can Social Security Benefits be Garnished for Child Support?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

Our moderators over on FindLaw Answers receive a lot of questions about Social Security and child support. Everyone wants to know whether the government can garnish Social Security benefits -- retirement or disability -- for the purpose of paying past due child support.

It can. And it will.

Most lenders are not permitted to garnish Social Security benefits under the law. However, Congress made an exception for past due child support and alimony obligations.

Before the Social Security Administration may garnish benefits, it must be served with a copy of a court order. To accomplish this, an individual must go to court and prove that the other party has failed to fulfill its child support obligations. The individual must then request a garnishment order from the judge.

Only at this point may the agency garnish Social Security benefits to pay a recipient's child support obligations.

As it stands, the federal government may only withhold up to 65% of a person's monthly benefits. It may be less depending on the state maximum and whether the individual is supporting another child or spouse.

However, a new Treasury Department regulation seems to change this amount. The regulation requires states to establish a system to analyze bank accounts on a quarterly basis, explains Margot Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center. The goal is to find assets belonging to child support debtors. If a match is made, the state will automatically seize the account.

An individual can end up losing 100% of his Social Security benefits to child support.

If the federal government has garnished your Social Security to pay child support, you should contact a family law attorney to discuss your options. You may be able to reverse the garnishment order, or lessen your monthly burden.

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