Behind on your taxes? You get a coronavirus stimulus check. Have delinquent federal student loans? You still get a stimulus check.
But if you owe child support? You’ve probably heard that you won’t get a coronavirus check in that case. Or that if someone owes you child support and their payment is seized by the IRS, you’ll get it.
It’s true that child support is the only kind of debt that could cause the IRS to seize your payment.
But the IRS doesn’t automatically know when someone misses a payment. And if a taxpayer isn’t on record with the IRS as being delinquent, their coronavirus check won’t be affected.
Here’s what you need to know about stimulus checks if you owe child support or someone owes you.
When Can the IRS Seize Someone’s Coronavirus check?
The IRS will only seize your coronavirus check if you’re in the Treasury Offset Program due to unpaid child support. Think of it this way: If your tax refunds are seized because you owe child support, your coronavirus check will be, too.
But to get into this system, your state child enforcement agency needs to know that you’re behind — which it would if the custodial parent reported your nonpayment or if you missed payments you make directly to the state.
Your state will then submit information about your missed payments to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, which reports that information to the Treasury.
How long does this take? It varies by state, according to Seth C. Weston, a Roanoke, Virginia-based attorney whose practice includes family law.
“For instance, the Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement generally won’t take enforcement action until there is $5,000 in arrears,” Weston said.
“It can take anywhere from weeks to months,” said Adam Turbowitz, a New York family attorney with Aronson Mayefsky and Sloan, LLP. “In New York, there’s a huge [child support] case backlog. We’re talking 30-, 60-, 90-day backlogs.”
The backlogs are likely to get even longer, with most agencies operating remotely or closed since mid-March.
Once you’ve been reported to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, you’ll get a pre-offset notice with information about how to contest the debt before you’re officially placed in the Treasury Offset Program.
10 FAQs About Stimulus Checks and Child Support
Here’s what we know about coronavirus stimulus checks and child support.
1. If someone recently got behind on child support due to a layoff, would they get their coronavirus check?
It depends on how quickly the state moves, but if they became unemployed as part of the massive coronavirus-related job losses that have occurred since March, it’s unlikely that their coronavirus check would be impacted.
“Presumably, if this all played out over this four- to six-week period, there probably wouldn’t be time to get that person’s information processed in the federal system,” Turbowitz said.
2. Will I be notified if my coronavirus check is seized for child support?
The IRS says the Bureau of the Fiscal Services will send you a letter. If you’ve had tax refunds offset because you’ve owed child support, you would have gotten a letter at that time, as well.
You can call the Treasury Offset Program system at 800-304-3107 to see if you’re in it.
3. I have no income right now. Is there a hardship exception that would allow me to get my check?
4. My ex owes me child support. Does that mean I get their coronavirus check?
Possibly, provided that your ex was eligible for a check and your state has reported that they’re delinquent to the Treasury Offset Program.
If you get your ex’s tax refund, you’d probably get their coronavirus check as well.
5. I already got my coronavirus check. Why didn’t I get the extra money for unpaid child support from my ex’s check?
If their check is intercepted, it will first go to the state agency that’s responsible for child support enforcement. That agency will then be responsible for disbursing the check.
Weston expects the process to be the same as the one used for intercepted tax refunds.
“The payment is typically sent to the receiver by the same method the receiver gets their tax refunds,” he said.
6. If the other parent owes me, do I get their full check?
Most states say that federal law requires that they get reimbursed first if someone owes both the state and a custodial parent for child support-related costs. But in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring that seized stimulus payments go to the custodial parent before the state.
If the person who owes you also owes someone else for child support, that could affect how much of their stimulus check you get.
If you have questions about coronavirus checks and child support, start with your state child support agency website. Many have FAQs about how they’ll process intercepted checks.
7. If I owe child support but have other children who live with me, could the $500 child credit be seized as well?
Yes. The $500 child coronavirus tax credit isn’t separate from your coronavirus check. So it can be seized with the rest of your payment.
8. I don’t owe child support, but my spouse does and we file a joint return. Will my $1,200 also be garnished?
It could be, if you didn’t file an injured spouse relief claim using Form 8379 with your tax return. This is typically used when a married couple’s joint return is seized over a debt, even though only one spouse is legally responsible for it.
In that case if the IRS accepts your claim, you’d receive your half of the payment. Your spouse’s half will be used to offset their unpaid child support. This will happen automatically; you don’t need to take further action.
Even if you’ve already filed your 2019 return, you can still submit an injured spouse claim separately.
9. The person who owes me doesn’t file a tax return. Could I still get an extra payment on their behalf?
In order for you to get the other parent’s coronavirus payment, the IRS would have to determine that they’re eligible for a payment because they filed a return or used the non-filer tool, or they qualified because they receive government benefits like Social Security or SSI.
The IRS then intercepts the payment and sends it to the appropriate state enforcement agency. If the IRS doesn’t have the information it needs to process a payment, like a tax return or a benefits statement, you wouldn’t get a payment on their behalf.
10. If my child’s other parent owes me, how quickly can I get their intercepted check?
It will vary based on your state. States will likely receive the first intercepted checks in late April.
Many hold the checks for 30 days for processing. If the non-custodial parent who owes child support is married and filed a joint return, their half of the payment will be distributed to the custodial parent, but the IRS requires a 180-day waiting period before the other half can be distributed. That’s meant to give the person’s spouse time to file an injured spouse claim. (See Question 7.)
So let’s say the non-custodial parent is married filing a joint return, and their coronavirus check is for $2,400. You could receive up to $1,200 at first. If the non-custodial parent’s spouse doesn’t receive injured spouse relief, you could receive the remaining $1,200 after 180 days.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at Codetic. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column.