Wage garnishment is unrelated to garnishes for food, though they come from the same word root. While you may love having parsley atop your mac n’ cheese from The Public House in Norfolk, you definitely will not love having your employer redirect a portion of your wages to the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE). If you owe, you owe, but what can you do?
Child Support and Wage Garnishment
If you’re divorced or simply not with your child’s mother, you probably signed some sort of agreement for you to pay child support. Say your divorce or break-up was two years ago, and for the first year you faithfully mailed her a check for a given amount every month. Then your 1997 Honda Accord developed transmission problems, and you missed a month. Your water heater went, and you missed another month. And so on. If you failed to send off a check to your ex-wife or child’s mother for several months, she had two recourses:
- Cut you some slack and politely remind you to pay up ASAP
- Contact her lawyer to get the Virginia DCSE to go after you
If you and she parted on amicable terms, she might be understanding. Transmission problems are very common on Accords; water heaters only last about 15 years. But if you burned a bridge or two, or raised a ruckus about visitation, she has no legal reason to give you a break on the child support. You owe your children the money needed to keep them living comfortably.
If you genuinely owe the money, you will waste additional time and money fighting your child’s mother’s attorney. You can try to be upbeat and think of the garnishment as a convenient payment plan to get you caught up. If you only owe a few months’ payments, any garnishment will clear up relatively fast, but some of those paychecks could be as much as 50 percent smaller. Instead of that delicious mac n’ cheese you might have to get by on the 33¢ boxed store brand for a while. Hey, mix a little tuna fish in it and it is very nearly edible!
Let’s See What’s up at the DCSE
Virginia’s Department of Social Services operates the DCSE precisely to go after guys like you, if you have fallen behind on child support. For whatever reasons, says the DCSE, more than 305,900 child support cases are current in Virginia, with 374,000 children owed an astounding $2.64 billion. That is a lot of money not going to Virginia’s children for their clothes, food, bicycles, college educations, and summer camps.
Given the numbers, the DCSE is predisposed to look unfavorably on you as a dad not paying your required child support. DCSE also has a pretty good record of winning: it collected $661 million in back child support in 2016.
How does the DCSE garnish the money? According to their website, DCSE can “file property liens, report child support debts to credit agencies, and suspend drivers’ and other licenses, intercept income tax refunds, prepare your case for court action and petition another state for assistance when needed.”
Ouch. Those are far-reaching and painful intercepts. Better hope DCSE does not make … a mistake.
What If The DCSE Does Make Mistakes?!
Suppose, despite the Accord’s transmission problems and weeks of hot and cold showers, you still scraped together that monthly check so Bubba and Babs could get their school supplies. You did not miss a single payment. Yet your first hint that a garnishment has occurred could be a notable drop in your weekly or biweekly paycheck. Your employer must abide by DCSE; it cannot ignore the Division, even when it is wrong.
The remedy may take a while, but here is what you must do:
- Contact your attorney (use the same attorney you used for the divorce)
- Gather evidence of all your support payments
- Your attorney will return to the Virginia court that issued the child support order originally and request a new order stopping the wage garnishment
- The judge, on seeing your evidence of continuous payments, will issue the new order
- Take the order to your employer
What if the wage garnishment is a mathematical error, such as taking out $2,000 instead of $200 from your check? The process is the same, but the order will reestablish the correct rate.
Wage Garnishment Error?
If a wage garnishment error resulted in too much being taken from your check, you have to work out a repayment schedule with your employer, who owes you back pay. You may wish to have your attorney look at a repayment schedule, because a sudden increase in your pay could have tax consequences as well.
A Pound of Prevention
While nothing can save you from the indigestion you may feel from greasy comfort food, you can prevent a lot of garnishment heartburn by having your attorney approach the courts as soon as you realize you are falling behind. Generally, Virginia’s courts will work with you to modify your child support payments, though the Code of Virginia does lay out very specific guidelines in § 20-108.2.
If you take a look at the tables, having no income is no excuse for not supporting your children, since even a $0 earner has to (somehow) pay a minimum of $68 a month for one child.
At The Firm for Men we know how to help you with every aspect of your child support challenge. Call us at 757-383-9184 or contact us online to speak with an attorney about wage garnishment, dealing with the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement, or other child custody and support issues.