As many custodial parents in Utah may have discovered, it is at times difficult to collect child support from a non-custodial parent who has been ordered to make payments as part of a divorce decree. While it may be possible to have the Internal Revenue Service direct the payment of the obligor’s income tax refund to the non-custodial parent, another method that may be available is the garnishment of the parent’s Social Security benefits.

Not all forms of Social Security benefits are capable of being garnished. Supplemental Security Income is deemed to be welfare and thus ineligible. However, benefits derived from the retirement, survivors or disability programs are deemed to be earned income, and thus, they can be garnished for purposes of collecting child support.

In order to utilize this method, the non-custodial parent will need to obtain an income withholding order from the court that has jurisdiction over the matter. The court will require evidence that the terms of the original support order are not being complied with. Once the withholding order is issued, the Social Security Administration will need to be given a copy. If the non-custodial parent is not currently receiving benefits, the order will remain on file until such times as the payment of benefits commences or resumes. Under federal law, a maximum of 65 percent of the eligible monthly benefits can be garnished.

While some parents choose to ignore their child support obligations out of malice or spite, many are simply unable to meet them because their financial situation has adversely changed since the issuance of the original order. In such an event, it may be advisable to seek a child support order modification with the help of a family law attorney.

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