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Child and Spousal Support for Courts and Attorneys

Published: September 26, 2014

Important Points to Know:

Judges, hearing officers, private attorneys, and clerks of court should be aware of the following information when entering orders for income withholding:

  • All child support orders entered after 1994 must have a provision for immediate income withholding unless there is a written agreement between the parties for an alternate arrangement (e.g., direct payment), or good cause exists.  For more information on these exceptions, see the bench card Income Withholding for Support and the State Disbursement Unit.
  • Income withholding orders (IWOs) must be on a standard form approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This requirement applies both to IV-D and non-IV-D cases. IWOs may be returned if not on the standard form.
  • The IWO form is the correct form to use if child and spousal support are combined in one order since both types of payments can be withheld by employers, sent to the state disbursement unit (SDU), and then disbursed to the custodial parties.
  • Courts and attorneys should use the appropriate state-specific form when ordering employers or income withholders to garnish spousal support that is not combined with child support.
  • Child support and spousal support payments made through income withholding must be sent to the SDU. This requirement applies to all orders entered or modified after January 1, 1994, including those in private cases not enforced by the state child support agency. Any IWO that does not direct an employer or income withholder to send payments to the SDU is not "regular on its face" and will be returned to the sender.
  • The IWO includes a "remittance identifier". This is the number needed by the SDU to process payments in a correct and timely manner and may be different from the case identifier. Courts should work with their local child support agency or SDU to obtain the remittance identifier for an order for a non-IV-D case. See SDU addresses and IWO requirements.

Background:

The most effective way to collect child support is through income withholding. Attorneys, courts, custodial parents or their representatives, and state child support agencies issue income withholding orders to employers or income providers directing them to withhold child support from the noncustodial parent’s income and forward it to the appropriate agency or party.  In 2013, over 70 percent of all child support collected was through income withholding.

Spousal support may be collected with child support when included in the same order. Prior to 1981, state child support agencies could enforce, collect, and distribute only child support payments. This led to difficulties as the Social Security Act required that spousal support be sent to the state agency if the family received public assistance. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 allowed state child support agencies to process spousal support when it was ordered with child support in public assistance cases. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 expanded that authority to include non-public assistance cases. More information on the legislative history of collecting support for adults is available in Action Transmittal-83-02, Final Rule with Comment Period: Collection of Support for Certain Adults.

If you have questions, or for more information, contact the Employer Services team at employerservices@acf.hhs.gov.

Last Reviewed: June 12, 2019

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