By: E.A. Putman
“The check is in the mail” is, according to a Quora user, “a cliché, a classic excuse for being late on a payment [and] usually it would be false.” While the economic stimulus package isn’t false, the expectations may be. On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the much anticipated CARES Act that would send one-time payments to most Americans to help them cope with the coronavirus outbreak.
The $2 trillion stimulus package includes direct cash payments of up to $1,200 per adult – or $2,400 for married couples filing jointly – and an additional $500 per child, subject to income limits. As the coronavirus crisis ravages the U.S. economy and many are starting to navigate some form of normalcy with this financial package, many are unaware that their check may not be in the mail.
The IRS may reduce the amount you receive if you have past due child support payments that have been reported by states to the Treasury Department. The Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to collect past-due child support by the administrative offset of federal payments. In a prior blog post, I discussed the penalties for back child support, including wage garnishment, license suspension, passport suspension and intercepting federal income tax refund checks. Intercepting the obligor’s stimulus check is another way past due balances on child support will be fulfilled.
While the IRS could start issuing payments within a few weeks, if a non-custodial parent owes back child support and it has been reported to the State of Texas and the State of Texas has reported it to the Federal Office of Child-Support Enforcement, the non-custodial/ obligor parent may receive less than the intended amount.
COVID-19 and Child Support Questions
Are you behind on child support? Will your stimulus check be reduced?
State child support agencies submit the names, Social Security numbers, and amounts of past-due support of people who are behind in their payments to the Department of Treasury. You can contact the OAG to see if that is you as the obligor or if you are the obligee you can contact them to see if this applies to the other parent.
Generally, a noncustodial/ obligor parent whose support debt meets the criteria for Federal Offset or Passport Denial will receive a Pre-Offset Notice that explains the process and shows the amount of past-due support owed at the time of the notice. The Pre-Offset Notice includes information about Federal Tax Refund Offset, Administrative Offset, Passport Denial, and actions the child support agency may take to enforce a support obligation. It also includes information about how to contest the debt amount. Contact the Treasury Offset Program and Debt Management Service at 1-800-304-3107 to determine if your stimulus check will be reduced due to back child support.
Have you lost your job due to COVID-19? Should you modify your child support?
If you have been laid off, furloughed or had your hours reduced and you are obligated to pay child support, it is most certainly advisable to get your child support obligation modified. An obligor is required to pay the amount in the child support order until further modified by the court. That means until the court changes your order, then you are still on the hook for the amount owed.
How can I get my child support modified?
Three options (1) You can hire a private attorney to file the lawsuit on your behalf; (2) You can contact the Office of Attorney General Child Support Division to file the lawsuit on your behalf or (3) You can file the lawsuit yourself (pro se). The pros and cons of hiring a lawyer or doing it yourself was addressed in a prior blog post.
What if it takes forever (months) to get into court to get my child support reduced? Why act quickly?
Remember, informal agreements between parents do not change the court-ordered amount. That can be changed only by a court hearing or the child support review process with the Office of the Attorney General. Many Texas courts have set up hearings through the use of Zoom. Within a few weeks, court hearings and other matters may be back to normal (as possible during a lockdown). Nonetheless, even if the hearing to reduce child support isn’t a few months from now, your lawsuit can request that the reduced amount be retroactively applied to the date the other parent received notice of the lawsuit. For instance, if you filed your lawsuit April 1st, had the other parent served by April 8th and were not able to have a hearing on the modification until October 1st, you can ask the judge to “backdate” the reduced amount from the date of April 8th.
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 know are seeking legal assistance for child support issues during COVID-19, contact The Putman Firm, PLLC at (281) 501-9033. You can also schedule a consultation by visiting Your Family Law Attorney.