Social Security Garnishment and Child Support Collections
By: M. Scott Gordon
Child support collections can be a frustrating and complicated process, particularly when the parent owes back child support and has failed to pay for many months (or even years). Many parents in Illinois have attempted to obtain unpaid child support through the garnishment of the nonpaying parent’s wages. Wage garnishment can be an effective way to obtain child support that is owed, but this can only work if the nonpaying parent is actually employed. What happens if the nonpaying parent does not work, but instead receives Social Security benefits?
You may be able to have a nonpaying parent’s Social Security payments garnished, and the nonpaying parent may be responsible for back owed child support, including interest.
Social Security Payments Usually Cannot Be Garnished, but Child Support is Different
For almost all debts owed, Social Security benefits cannot be garnished. Under Section 207 of the Social Security Act, “none of the moneys paid or payable . . . shall be subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or to the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law.” In other words, Social Security payments cannot be garnished for debts, and they cannot be targeted by creditors in the event that an individual files for bankruptcy. However, there are two prominent exceptions to this rule: delinquent taxes, and delinquent family support payments (including child support).
As the Social Security Administration (SSA) explains, “we can withhold Social Security benefits to enforce your legal obligation to pay child support . . .” The SSA can also garnish wages to enforce a person’s obligation to make alimony or spousal support payments, as well as to collect on a person’s overdue federal taxes. To be clear, Social Security benefits can indeed be garnished if child support is owed. Federal law clarifies that no more than 65 percent of an individual’s Social Security benefit can be withheld for the purposes of enforcing support (or federal tax) payments. The amount that can be withheld can vary if the nonpaying parent also owes other child support payments or other debts for which Social Security benefits can be garnished.
Back Owed Child Support and Interest Can Be Included in the Debt Owed
Federal laws are in place to ensure that Social Security benefits for nonpaying parents can be garnished for the purposes of child support. The Illinois Income Withholding for Support Act (750 ILCS 28/) also provides important information about how income and benefits can be garnished for the purposes of enforcing child support orders.
While only current Social Security benefits can be garnished—the amount of the benefit paid cannot be adjusted retroactively—those benefits can be withheld to include arrearage (back owed child support) as well as interest. In other words, a nonpaying parent’s Social Security benefits can be withheld in order to repay back owed child support, as well as the amount of interest due on that back owed child support.
Contact a Chicago Child Support Collections Attorney
When an individual’s Social Security benefits have been garnished to enforce a child support order, that individual cannot appeal to the SSA regarding the garnishment order. Instead, any disputes must go through the court system. If you have questions about Social Security benefits and child support collections, you should speak with a child support collections lawyer in Chicago as soon as possible. Contact M. Scott Gordon & Associates to learn more about how we can assist with your case.