Can Personal Injury Settlements Be Garnished for Child Support?
Most people know that if you get injured, and it’s someone else’s fault, then you are generally entitled to some money for your medical bills and for your pain and suffering. That’s how personal injury settlements work in the minds of most people who aren’t lawyers.
Many parents are surprised to find that if they win a personal injury settlement and they’re behind on child support, that money can be taken to back pay any owed child support. It can come as a nasty shock if you owe thousands of dollars in child support arrears.
Important Terms to Know If This Happens to You
Two legal jargon terms will come up again and again in cases like this; arrear and lien.
An arrear (or arrears) is money that someone owes which should have been paid earlier. For instance, “outstanding child support arrears” would refer to missed child support payments.
A lien is someone’s right to keep possession of property owned by another person until that person repays their debt. For example, there might be a lien on your car title if you borrowed money from a title loan company.
Putting the two into a missed or late payment child support example, if you have child support arrears, the state may put a lien on your personal injury settlement claim.
How a Child Support Lien Works
States have the power to garnish income for child support arrears. Basically, if you aren’t paying your child support, they have ways to force you to pay it.
If the other parent has requested legal help with child support enforcement at any time in the past, there is probably a process already a lien in place. You may have received something in the mail about owing child support.
If the state is going to take part of your settlement for paying down your child support debt, both you and the insurance company responsible for the claim will be notified.
The insurance company paying the claim will work out the payment with your personal injury attorney.
Is it legal to put a lien on a personal injury settlement?
Yes, it is legal. Most states take the care and support of children extremely seriously. The states have rules in place to make sure that both parents take responsibility for raising that child to the best of their ability.
Will the doctor’s bills be paid first?
Yes. Your medical bills and attorney fees get paid out of your settlement before the remainder is distributed to you (or held up for child support arrears.)
Do I have to pay back all the child support I owe?
That will depend on the state in which you owe child support. Some states require that you take care of all child support debt before they will release the payment to you. Other states have specific minimum amounts that will go to you, anything above that after your doctors and attorney have been paid, will go to pay down your child support.
In some cases, you can work with your divorce attorney to negotiate down the amount you owe. Right Lawyers is our go-to divorce attorneys. They can talk with Child Support Services to try and work out a reduced amount.
I can’t afford my child support payments!
Most divorce attorneys recommend looking into modifying child support every three years or so. Incomes can fluctuate. That’s normal. People get laid off or promoted, changing the income distribution between divorced or never married parents.
You can modify your child support payments if your job changes. However, many states will not adjust payments because you quit or got fired. Their logic is that you could have been holding a job and fulfilling your child support obligations.
If you simply can’t afford your payments, talk with a child support attorney about what you can do to ease the stress.