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How Much of A Paycheck Can Be Garnished for Child Support?

Under the laws of the United States, a child’s natural or adoptive parents generally have a duty to both the child and society as a whole to provide that child with life’s basic necessities until he or she reaches the age of 18 or emancipates.

When a noncustodial parent refuses to pay the child support owed to their child’s custodial parent, this can leave all parties involved between a rock and a hard place. The custodial parent has a legal right to court-ordered support payments. The court will have determined what monetary amount is in the child’s best interests while still being—theoretically—within the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay. If the noncustodial parent does not pay the court-ordered amounts, that parent can be held in contempt of court, fined hundreds of dollars, and sent to jail for up to 120 days.

Whether you are the custodial parent seeking enforcement of a support order or the noncustodial parent being ordered to pay, it is important to be aware of income withholding as a child support enforcement mechanism.

Collection and Distribution

First, it can be helpful to understand how child support is collected and distributed in North Carolina. In order to exercise your legal right to child support as a custodial parent, you must first obtain a court order dictating the frequency and amount of support payments. In a perfect world, the noncustodial parent would then be able to pay those amounts directly to Child Support Service’s Centralized Collections in Raleigh. Once there, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would then distribute those payments to the custodial parent.

Since we don’t live in a perfect world, establishment of a child support order is no guarantee that the noncustodial parent can or will pay the ordered amount. In this case, the custodial parent and his or her attorney can work with CSS to use several different enforcement measures to effect payment.

Income Withholding

Also known as wage garnishment, this is the single most effective method of collecting child support that is both currently owed and past-due (called arrearages). Whether the noncustodial parent agreed to pay child support in a support agreement or was court-ordered to do so, the court can issue an income withholding order so that the noncustodial parent’s employer will deduct the amount specified from the parent’s paychecks. Within seven (7) days the deducted amount will be sent to CSS’s Centralized Collections in Raleigh. Employers are required to withhold income for court-ordered child support, including those created in and enforced by other states.

The maximum amount of a noncustodial parent’s income that may be withheld is governed by both state and federal law.

What Qualifies as “Income?”

Within the context below, “disposable income” refers to any form of periodic payment the noncustodial parent receives, including but not limited to wages, salary, self-employment income, compensation as an independent contractor, military active duty and special pay, commission, bonus or incentive pay, severance pay, sick pay, vacation pay, workers’ compensation benefits, certain Social Security benefits, survivor’s benefits, disability, pension and retirement benefits (including military pension and retirement benefits), , annuity, interest, dividends, trust income, royalties and rents.

Unemployment insurance benefits (UIB) can also be included as disposable income if the noncustodial parent owes back child support (called arrearages). However, regardless of the garnishment caps below, no more than 25 percent of the parent’s unemployment benefits can be withheld from any given pay period.

State Law Limits

State law in North Carolina governs the maximum amount that can be withheld from a noncustodial parent’s paycheck for the total of the following:

  • Child support currently due
  • Amounts towards the balance for past-due child support (arrearages)
  • Related court costs, processing fees, and attorneys’ fees

The total amount that may be garnished from a noncustodial parent’s paycheck towards these costs depends on 1) how many support orders from the court there are against that parent, and 2) whether that person is currently supporting a spouse or other dependent children.

The total amounts per pay period that can be withheld from a noncustodial parent’s gross income for the child support costs listed above in North Carolina are:

  • If there is only one (1) support order from the court, up to 40 percent of the noncustodial parent’s disposable income can be withheld per pay period.
  • If there are multiple support orders from the court and the noncustodial parent is currently providing direct support for other dependent children or their spouse, up to 45 percent of the noncustodial parent’s disposable income can be withheld per pay period.
  • If the noncustodial parent is NOT currently providing support for other dependent children or their spouse but multiple support orders exist, up to 50 percent of the noncustodial parent’s disposable income can be withheld per pay period.
Federal Law Limits

If the support order is being enforced along with an order for current or past-due alimony or post-separation support, the Federal Consumer Credit Protection Act’s limits apply instead of the state law limits above. The federal limits are higher than the ones set by state law and include higher withholding limits if the parent is 12 weeks or more delinquent on payments. The federal limits for income withholding are:

  • If the noncustodial parent is NOT supporting their current spouse or another child and is not 12 weeks or more delinquent on support payments, up to 60 percent of the noncustodial parent’s disposable income can be withheld per pay period.
  • If the noncustodial parent is NOT supporting a current spouse or child but is 12 weeks or more delinquent on the support payments, up to 65 percent of the noncustodial parent’s disposable income can be withheld per pay period.
  • If the noncustodial parent IS supporting their current spouse or another child and is NOT 12 weeks or more delinquent on support payments, up to 50 percent of the noncustodial parent’s disposable income can be withheld per pay period.
  • If the noncustodial parent IS supporting their current spouse or another child AND is 12 weeks or more delinquent on their support payments, up to 55 percent of the noncustodial parent’s disposable income can be withheld per pay period.

If you have a child support issue in or near Charlotte, North Carolina, please contact the dedicated family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC today. The attorneys in our family law practice are experienced with helping both custodial and noncustodial parents resolve child support issues as efficiently as possible. Contact our office or call 704-370-2828 now for a consultation with one of our family law attorneys about the best plan of attack for your particular situation.