Pennsylvania has a host of ways to recover delinquent child support ranging from seizure of bank accounts, gambling winnings, personal injury awards, and the sale proceeds of a home, to intercepting tax refunds, suspending professional, occupational, or recreational licenses. The worst or most consistent offenders will also be thrown in jail.
As reported by Jessica Menton of the USA Today, you can now add interception of the CARES Act stimulus check that list.
People who carry child support arrears can expect to have their CARES Act check garnished completely or in part depending on the amount of arrears. Additionally, a spouse of a party owing child support will also have their check garnished if they file their taxes jointly. This is not surprising considering the appropriately high emphasis on collecting child support and consistent with the Commonwealth’s other efforts.
The CARES act check falls under “income” as it is defined under Pennsylvania’s support guidelines in Rule 1910.16-2(a)(8) so not only will it be garnished to pay child support, but it will also be added to an individual’s income available for support (albeit, it may not have material impact on most support orders, particularly since both parties may receive it). More importantly, it may not sufficiently cover the income loss by a payor who finds themselves furloughed, terminated, or receiving a pay cut, so it is important that they try to address their reduced income with the recipient as early as possible.
Under normal circumstances, a party experiencing decreased income could petition to modify support and get relief on a timely basis. However, due to the statewide lock-down, Domestic Relations Offices are not operating as normal and modifications are not readily available. An alternative is to negotiate a modified support order and have your attorney prepare and a support order retroactive to the income loss. If that can be accomplished, the CARES Act check can be treated similar to a bonus and the parties work out what, if any, support should be exchanged out of it. If that cannot be accomplished, the modification will have to occur once the courts reopen.
However it is handled, understanding one’s expectations can help reduce stress during this time. If someone is relying on the CARES check to help buoy them during this time, they should be aware that they may not get it if they owe support; conversely, if someone is owed support, they know that some extra help is on the way.
Aaron Weems is a partner in Fox Rothschild’s Blue Bell, Pennsylvania office and practices throughout the greater Philadelphia region. Aaron can be reached at 610-397-7989; firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AaronWeemsAtty.