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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we discuss how child support affects Covid-19 stimulus check disbursement and answer the following questions:

  • What is the Treasury Offset Program?
  • What happens to the child support deducted from my stimulus check?
  • If I file taxes jointly can the TOP take both me and my current spouse’s stimulus money?
  • How much of my stimulus check can be seized?
  • As the custodial parent, why haven’t I received my ex-spouse’s stimulus payment?
  • Is there anything I can do to stop my stimulus payment from being seized for child support?

What is the Treasury Offset Program?

The Treasury Offset Program (TOP) is a centralized offset program, administered by the Bureau of the Fiscal Service’s Debt Management Service (DMS). The purpose of this program is to collect a variety of debts owed to states and federal agencies. One type of debt managed by the Treasury Offset Program is child support. Under the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program, a part of the TOP, past-due child-support payments could be deducted from tax refunds and paid to the custodial parent. The CARES Act also included past-due child support payments as a debt that could be seized from stimulus checks. Below is a description of the Treasury Offset Program process:

  1. You owe money to a federal agency or state (such as back taxes, child support, or delinquent student loan payments) and you should be notified of the amount owed;
  2. Your name, information, and the amount owed is entered into the TOP database. This information comes from the agency to which you owe money;
  3. If you become entitled to money from the federal government (usually in the form of a tax return or some other benefit program) the amount of debt listed in the TOP database will be deducted from the payment; and
  4. After the offset, the Treasury will send you a notification of the funds seized and if any money is left over it will be paid to you.

What Happens to the Child Support Deducted From My Stimulus Check?

The money seized under the Treasury Offset Program doesn’t immediately go to the individual or entity to which it is owed. The amount offset will first go to the state that submitted the child support case within two to three weeks of being disbursed. From here, the funds will be disbursed to the custodial parent (or another appropriate individual), unless the offset is from a jointly filed tax household. This can cause the payment to be delayed for up to six months, and in the case of stimulus checks, sometimes the new spouse’s stimulus money can be incorrectly offset along with the noncustodial parent’s portion.

If I File Taxes Jointly Can the TOP Take Both Me and My Current Spouse’s Stimulus Money?

The immediacy with which the CARES Act was created and implemented in response to the rapidly shifting economic situation in the U.S. left the program open to potential flaws. One of the most common complaints is from jointly filing couples whose entire stimulus payment was garnished in order to pay one spouse’s past-due child support. The good news is that this money is not gone forever. The simplest way to get back the portion of the stimulus payment that would have gone to the uninvolved spouse is to file an injured spouse claim (Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation). The state will typically hold the funds for transfer to the custodial parent for up to 6 months, giving the injured spouse time to reclaim the portion of his or her stimulus payment.

How Much of My Stimulus Check Can be Seized?

All of it, or up to the amount owed to satisfy the debt. The Treasury Offset Program receives two bits of information concerning whether your amount of child support owed will trigger a seizure of funds:

  1. The custodial parent receives funds under the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families Program and the noncustodial parent owes more than $150, or
  2. The noncustodial parent owes at least $500 or more in arrears.

If you fall into either of these categories your stimulus payment can be offset up to whatever amount owed in past-due child support, even if this amount is equal to or greater than the entirety of your potential stimulus payment.

As the Custodial Parent Why Haven’t I Received My Ex-Spouse’s Stimulus Payment?

The reasons for a delay in receiving past-due child support from the CARES Act stimulus payment are numerous, but the most likely reason is that it is still in the process of being transferred. The funds are normally held by the state for at least two to three weeks before they can be processed and if they come from a jointly filing household those funds are sometimes held for up to six months. If you believe you should have already received funds you can attempt to contact the local child support agency through which previous funds have been disbursed. You can also call our office or reach out to the attorney handling your child support case.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Stop My Stimulus Payment From Being Seized For Child Support?

If you owe past-due child support there is very little that can be done to block your stimulus payment from being offset. The CARES Act specifically included language to intercept the payment to individuals who owe past-due child support, or other federal or state debts such as delinquent tax and student loan payments. If you do not agree that your stimulus payment should have been intercepted or felt a mistake was made you can contact the TOP call center at 1-800-304-3107, however, the information they can give you is somewhat limited. You can also contact or submit an Administrative Review with the agencies listed in the offset notice from the Bureau of Fiscal Services. This notice will list the name and contact information of any agencies that requested an offset from your stimulus payment or tax return.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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