Well Isn’t That Super: Intercepting Tax Refunds to Cover Unpaid Child Support

By: Eronn A. Putman

Updated: February 8, 2021; Original Post: February 2, 2020

You see what I did there! “Super” and “Interception” (I learned in 2016 from a Patent Law Attorney that during this season you should avoid using “Super Bowl”.) I was amped for today. Admittedly, not necessarily for Super Bowl per se, but because the temperature hit 78 degrees and it felt like crawfish season. Though I didn’t make it to any crawfish boils, I managed to find out about an app that shows you which restaurants are selling crawfish. 

For about 10 years, football has been hardcore in my veins (LSU Tigers hardcore fanatic, Houston Texans bandwagon fan). I chose LSU Law for my studies because of scholarship, proximity to Houston, the cuisine and the football atmosphere.

2009 NFL Season

After returning to Houston, I became a fan of the Houston Texans who were in the elementary school phase of their franchise. I enjoy football. It brings out the competitiveness in me and if there’s one thing I know about the finale of a football season, it can be very similar to the kick off of tax refund season.

Some call the Super Bowl the greatest sporting event in the world. Others tune in for the half-time entertainment or the commercials. One thing is for certain, one side will win and the other side will lose, much like tax refunds if a parent owes a child support debt. Today, America celebrated Super Bowl LV, which saw the hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers win against reigning champs Kansas City Chiefs. Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. I said it. I digress.

Tax refund season, much like the Super Bowl, is a period where many people have waited all season to receive their “win.” Fortunately/ unfortunately, if  a parent is in child support arrearages, there is a chance their financial win will not be as expected. If you owe back child support, your tax refund may be subject to an interception. Note: The broad and complex issues of income tax are best served by seeking the advice of a Certified Public Accountant or a Tax Attorney. This blog post is not legal or tax advice.

The State of Texas collects more child support than any other state, but it is also estimated that Texas parents owe $13.3 billion in back child support. When people think of penalties for back child support, they think of wage garnishment, license suspension and even passport suspension. Nonetheless, the Texas Attorney General Child Support Division (“Texas OAG”) uses many techniques to enforce child support orders, including intercepting federal income tax refund checks. Yep. Well, isn’t that super?

So, how does this work?

The Interception

Texans interception
Photo: Brett Coomer, Staff Photographer , Houston Chronicle

An interception is a move in football that happens when a player on the defensive team catches a ball from the quarterback instead of the intended receiver.

Think of it like this: The football is the tax refund. The parent who has the obligation to pay child support is the intended receiver. The quarterback is the Department of Treasury and the Treasury Offset Program is the interception.

The Treasury Offset Program (TOP) is administered by the United States Department of Treasury’s Financial Management Service (FMS). It allows the Texas OAG to collect outstanding child support owed by garnishing, or offsetting, your debt with your tax refund. The Texas OAG will submit the names, Social Security numbers, and amounts of past-due support of people who are behind in their payments. 

Then, the Department of Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service mails a Notice of Offset to the noncustodial parent stating that all or part of their federal tax refund has been intercepted because of the support debt. The notice explains to contact the local child support agency for further information. It also includes information about how to contest the debt amount. It is important to know what is the accurate debt since the actual amount that Treasury deducts from the tax refund may differ from the amount on the Notice based on updated activity.

The Sack

A sack occurs when the quarterback (or another offensive player acting as a passer) is tackled behind the line of scrimmage before he can throw a forward pass.

Photo: Scott Halleran, Getty Images

Think of it like this:  The sack is done by the Texas OAG on behalf of the obligee parent. The quarterback is the obligor parent. The forward pass is whatever the parent wanted to use their tax refund on. After the Department of Treasury sends a Notice of Offset to the noncustodial parent, it forwards the forwards the intercepted or offset funds to the Texas OAG to pay the past-due support to the other parent. Thus, the funds are sacked.

The Fumble

A fumble in football occurs when a player who has possession and control of the ball loses it before being downed (tackled), scoring, or going out of bounds. In this scenario, the fumble is what happens when the obligor parent is married to a person who is not the obligee parent and the spouse of the obligor parent files taxes jointly. That spouse expects his or her “portion” of the tax refund from filing a joint return, but, it too has been garnished to pay the outstanding child support debt.  The football is the tax refund from a joint filing and the player who had possession and control of the football (the obligor parent) has lost the ball.

Photo: Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun

If your spouse owes child support, it is possible to forfeit your part of the refund through an Injured Spouse Allocation. In this situation, there are pros and cons to filing “married filing jointly” only which a qualified Certified Public Accountant can explain in depth.

For more information, contact the Treasury Offset Program and Debt Management Service at 1-800-304-3107 to determine if your tax refund will be reduced due to back child support .

The Putman Firm, PLLC is a family law litigation firm that handles a wide array of family matters including criminal matters that intersect family law, i.e. family violence assault cases, protective orders (criminal and civil) and allegations of child abuse.

If you or someone you believe your child support arrears is incorrect,  contact The Putman Firm, PLLC at (281) 501-9033. You can also schedule a consultation by visiting Your Family Law Attorney.

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