We have covered this topic before when Pennsylvania clarified and improved the procedure for collecting a support overpayment, but based upon a recent letter to the Philadelphia Daily News Personal Finance Columnist, Harry Gross, people still are having difficulty navigating the process and understanding what their options are to recover over-payments for child support.

Two main ideas should be considered in this situation: first, no matter how wrong it was to have the person’s tax refund garnished in the first place, the state’s Domestic Relations Sections are not designed to simply offer refunds. The money had already been distributed to the payee and they can not simply reverse the transaction. While they can make direct deposits into the payee’s checking account, they do not have the power to make a withdrawal (conversely, the payor can authorize wage garnishment).

The second point worth considering is that there is still a support obligation in effect. The suggestion that the tax refund be applied to future support, while not incorrect or a bad idea, will not likely happen simply because the Order will continue to charge each month. Unless there is another Order which allows for the suspension of the Support Order or specifically allows the payor to “skip” a payment, he will be expected to make a payment when the charging date hits. If he does not, the account will likely be flagged for enforcement.

The remedy is not ideal, but still better than it used to be: the payor can petition to modify the support order and ask for the Support Order to be lowered by up to 20% of the base amount until the overpayment is satisfied. Usually, this will not require having to go before a judge and can be addressed at the initial conference level – unless the other side refuses the credit, in which case, it will move through the system and require a Master or Judge to order to adjustment.

The 20% decrease is actually discretionary by the court, so the decrease could be less than 20% based on the circumstances of the case, including how much longer the support order will be in effect. Consulting with an attorney will help you understand how much and for how long your support order will be affected by the overpayment.