Office of Child Support Enforcement Corrects State Enforcement Offices

May 5, 2016
By Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

On April 15, Commissioner Vicky Turetsky of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) issued a letter to state child support enforcement authorities informing them that many of them are charging non-custodial parents amounts in excess of their child support orders and in violation of federal law.

“For employers that pay weekly or biweekly, some child support agencies are adding an amount due, in addition to the monthly amount ordered by a tribunal, to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)-approved Income Withholding for Support (IWO) form. This causes confusion and leads to errors in withholding. 

Withholding an amount that is not based on the underlying child support order is inconsistent with federal law and regulations and causes the following consequences:

The annual withholding amount is greater than the amount ordered by the tribunal.

Allocation of payments among multiple child support orders may result in reduced payments to other states’ support orders when the employer is required to apply Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) withholding limits.

Payments for overdue support may exceed amounts specified in the underlying child support order.

There is a lack of uniform withholding process among child support agencies.”

Why child support enforcement authorities would add the extra amounts is anyone’s guess, but apparently many of them do. Turetsky’s letter orders them to stop. It also provides information so basic that many might consider it too obvious to require stating.

“An acceptable method of determining the amount to be paid on a weekly or biweekly basis is to multiply the monthly amount of support due by 12 and divide that result by the number of pay periods in a year.

This language clarifies that child support collected from employers that pay weekly or biweekly, per this calculation method, meets the federal requirements for states to collect child support. There is no federal law or regulation that supports a requirement to instruct employers to collect more than the amount in the underlying order. 

EXAMPLE: To help states direct employers to properly withhold payments, we provide an example of the allowable withholding method. 

The IWO contains a monthly current support obligation of $528 with no arrears and no other amount ordered by the tribunal that issued the order; the total amount to withhold monthly is $528 or $6,336 annually ($528 x 12).

Weekly amount to withhold ($6,336 ÷ 52) = $121.85

Biweekly amount to withhold ($6,336 ÷ 26) = $243.69

Semimonthly amount to withhold ($6,336 ÷ 24) = $264

Monthly amount to withhold ($6,336 ÷ 12) = $528

Using this calculation, as described in the IWO instructions, results in withholding the ordered amount of child support each year and is consistent with federal laws and regulations.”

This reminds me of the state legislator who closed his office door and blew off steam to me about the child support he was required to pay. He told me that as a Legislator, he was paid every two weeks. But his child support order was written as a certain amount per month (30 or 31 days). After 28 days, child support had been deducted from his paycheck twice; but it was only enough to cover 28 days, and not enough to cover the last two or three days of the month. So every month he got a letter from the child support agency stating he was behind in his payments and would be listed on the agency website as a “deadbeat,” potentially fatal to his political career, even though in the normal course of the calendar the full amount would eventually be paid. He was furious.

You would think that an agency granted vast powers over other people’s money would have at least ground-level competence to deal with a simple situation like this, as now ordered by the federal OCSE, who had to do the arithmetic for them. Since they obviously don’t have that basic competence in many states, what is the solution: that they should all become smart and careful overnight; or that they shouldn’t be invested with such enormous powers?

Thanks again to Commissioner Turetsky for bringing a measure of common sense and decency to a child support regimen that often appears draconian and divorced from reality. Once again, did you ever expect to see the day when the head child support agency in the country would direct the state collection agencies to stop illegal practices??

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