Family Law

Veterans Benefits and Child Support

Can veteran’s benefits be taken away to pay child support?

As a general rule, yes. While most federal benefits, including veterans benefits, generally cannot be withheld, attached, garnished, or otherwise taken by a creditor in an attempt to collect on a debt, child support is an exception, as is spousal maintenance (alimony). A.R.S. § 12-1539(B); 42 U.S.C. § 659

Can veteran’s benefits be taken away to pay child support?

As a general rule, yes. While most federal benefits, including veterans benefits, generally cannot be withheld, attached, garnished, or otherwise taken by a creditor in an attempt to collect on a debt, child support is an exception, as is spousal maintenance (alimony). A.R.S. § 12-1539(B); 42 U.S.C. § 659

If veterans benefits are an individual's only source of income, does a person still have to pay child support?

Yes. If the child’s other parent obtains a court order for child support, the benefit's recipient must comply with that order even if veterans benefits are the only source of income.

Can veterans benefits be garnished as earnings to pay child support?

It depends. It certain situations, the child’s other parent can get a court order to garnish the benefits as earnings, and in other situations they cannot. If the benefits are garnished as earnings, it means that Veterans Affairs will be ordered to send some of the benefits directly to the other parent.

  • If the individual receives veterans disability benefits only, and they have not waived military retirement benefits, then the benefits generally cannot be garnished as earnings to pay child support.
  • If the individual waived all or part of military retirement benefits and receives veterans disability benefits instead, then the equivalent of the amount that is waived generally can be garnished as earnings to pay child support. The rest of the veterans disability benefits generally cannot be garnished as earnings to pay child support.
  • If an individual receives military retirement benefits and veterans disability benefits, then the veterans disability benefits generally can be garnished as earnings to pay child support. 42 U.S.C. § 662; 5 C.F.R. § 581.103

Can veterans benefits be garnished as non-earnings to pay child support after they are deposited into a bank account? 

It depends. It certain situations, the other parent can get a court order to garnish the benefits as non-earnings, and in other situations they cannot. If benefits are garnished as non-earnings, it means that the bank or other financial institution where the benefits go can be ordered to take money from the account and send it to the other parent.

  • If benefits were deposited into a bank account within the last two months, and the account that the benefits are deposited into contains the equivalent of more than two months’ worth of benefits, then the additional amount of money generally can be garnished as non-earnings.
  • If benefits were deposited into a bank account within the prior two months, and the account that the benefits are deposited into contains less than the equivalent of two months’ worth of benefits, then the money generally cannot be garnished as non-earnings.
  • If benefits were deposited into a bank account within the last two months, but the individual then transferred them into a different account, the entire amount generally can be garnished as non-earnings. 31 C.F.R. § 212

If benefits cannot be garnished, can the child’s other parent still ask Veterans Affairs to send them some of the benefits?

Yes. The other parent can ask Veterans Affairs for an “apportionment,” which means that a portion of the benefits will be sent directly to the other parent as a child support payment. 38 U.S.C. § 5307; 38 C.F.R. § 3.450 et seq.

How is apportionment different from garnishment?

Although garnishment and apportionment work the same way, garnishment is a court process, while apportionment is an administrative process that happens entirely within Veterans Affairs.

Veterans Affairs makes apportionment decisions by attempting to balance the needs of the veteran with the needs of the child. 38 C.F.R. § 3.451

Ordinarily, the other parent must file for an apportionment before Veterans Affairs will consider garnishment. 

If veterans benefits cannot be garnished, and are not apportioned, what other options does the other parent have if I refuse to pay child support?

The other parent has various options. For example, they can ask the court to hold the debtor in contempt for violating the child support order. If the court holds the debtor in contempt, it can order that they be arrested. A.R.S. § 25-502(I); A.R.S. § 25-681 

The other parent can also ask the Arizona Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) to enforce the court’s order. Depending on how far they have fallen behind on child support payments, once DCSS gets involved, it can (among other things): 

  • issue an administrative income withholding order to deduct child support from earnings, including wages, salary, other employment compensation, pension, or other retirement benefits A.R.S. § 25-505.01
  • report the unpaid child support to each of the credit reporting agencies, which may negatively impact credit reports and credit scores A.R.S. § 25-512
  • suspend the debtor's driver license, professional license, and/or recreational (e.g., fishing) license A.R.S. §§ 25-517, 518
  • seize the debtor's bank or other financial institution accounts A.R.S. § 25-521
  • place a lien on the debtor's property, such as a car or home, so the individual cannot sell or refinance it without paying what is owed A.R.S. § 25-516

This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

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