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171 - Do Child Support Arrears Impact COVID19 Stimulus Checks?

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In this show, Leh and Todd discuss the Stimulus checks and how they might be impacted by a child support arrearage. They also explore the reasons that some checks have been delayed, and what someone can do whose stimulus check was taken when it should not have been.

Speaker 1: Divorce Team Radio, episode 171.

Speaker 1: (music)

Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether. And with me is Todd Orston. We are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether and Tharp. Here you learn about divorce, family law, from time to time even tips and how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis. Well, we're in the middle of a crisis right now, Todd, when is this going to end?

Todd Orston: I know, I know. I try to balance those thoughts with, of course the thoughts, when are we going to get to a cure, when are we going to get to a point where we're not seeing the scary news every day of people getting sick and all of that? But you're right. Yeah, I'm balancing that against my when are my kids going back to school? Am I going to be able to put them into a camp? Or all the other day to day considerations that when they were in school full time and all that. Anyway, this is a surreal time we're all living in.

Leh Meriwether: I didn't even think about that, when you said camps. I had both my kids going to an event, a week-long event this summer in July and it got canceled just recently.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, both of my kids had plans for the summer, pretty significant plans that they were both excited for, and one has been canceled and the other one has not yet been canceled. But I am fairly certain that it's going to be. But this is what families are dealing with all over the place. People who are dealing with daycare issues. I'm sitting here talking about camps, but what about the people who work and will ultimately be going back to work, and they have no place to put their kids over the summer or even just day to day. And now there's going to be increased costs related to daycare. I mean, it's-

Leh Meriwether: It's a problem.

Todd Orston: This is a significant financial and economic problem we're dealing with.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. Yeah. And I hope on the last show, when I was talking about all the things are going, it didn't sound like all I cared about was the financial situation. I care. I want to make sure I was clear with everybody that I'm concerned about everything. So the health and wellbeing of everyone from a medical standpoint and a financial standpoint, because they're both intertwined. You can't untwine those two things.

Todd Orston: No, no. All right, so what are we talking about today?

Leh Meriwether: So we're talking about another area, an interesting area. So child supporter arrears and stimulus checks. Because the stimulus checks, some people were arguing, well, it's not really a tax refund, it's a stimulus check. So child support arrearage shouldn't be taken out of a stimulus check. But the CARES Act, the one that authorized the stimulus check did not put a limit on that.

Leh Meriwether: So federal law requires child support agencies to have procedures to collect past due child support from federal tax refunds. But in this federal stimulus bill, Congress did not put in an exemption to the stimulus rebate payments from federal offsets for child support arrears.

Todd Orston: So basically, if I'm going to say this as plainly as possible, the bottom line is you might be entitled to a stimulus check, but if you have an obligation, a legal obligation, that money can be diverted to pay your obligation?

Leh Meriwether: Yes. To pay your child support obligation. That's my understanding unless something has changed, because things are changing so fast. And they're talking about a second stimulus. So we are recording this in late April. And so if you're listening to this in May there may have been a new change to the statute that says a new CARES Act or a CARES Act 2.0 or something, where they said, no, this doesn't go to child support arrears. I would be surprised if they did that because it's to help everyone. So you just never know. So just keep that in mind. But my understanding, they are seizing it now.

Leh Meriwether: On the flip side, and we want to address this too, we're getting lots of questions, "Hey, it's my understanding that I'm supposed to get this. Why am I not getting the money?" Well, here's why. As I understand it again, the explanation from the different attorneys' offices around the country is that the money, they have to do an analysis. And the first analysis- So let's say that the obligor, the person who's supposed to be making the payments is married. So they can't just automatically take all the money. So like if there was a $2,400 check going to Mr. And Mrs. I Owe Money, well, they can't just automatically take all that, because a portion of it could be entitled to Mrs. I Owe Money. And if they don't actually owe any money, they're not obligated for the child support obligation. They should get their portion of the stimulus check.

Todd Orston: Right. That arrearage is not their legal obligation.

Leh Meriwether: Right. So they have to look at that, the money is pulled aside. Then it's sent to the agency. And then the agency sends it out. So there's a huge delay. So let's say one person was- My understanding there's actually delays period, in this whole thing, because we've never done anything this fast before. But let's say it was supposed to come on April 1st. Well, the federal government is going to put a stop on it. As I understand it, they send you a notice saying, "Hey, you have a child support arrears that needs to- So the stimulus check is going to go address that." I understand they're supposed to send you a notice of that. I don't know if it's happening. I haven't heard anything on that.

Leh Meriwether: But send you a notice. And then the money eventually we'll get to the child support agency. And then eventually, if you're going through child support enforcement, child support agency will then send it out to the person who's supposed to receive it. So there could be anywhere from a one to three week delay in that money. I want to make sure people knew that.

Todd Orston: And I get it. And that's a huge hardship for a lot of people who are depending on getting that money. But as it seems always the case, it's a system, and this is not a perfect system. It's probably better than a lot. But that means, unfortunately- Here, I'll pose it as a question Leh. Is there anything that can be done to speed up that process?

Leh Meriwether: Not that I'm aware of. And here, look at this. What we don't know is let's say a particular child support agency is in a particular area that got hit especially hard with COVID-19. I mean, you could have several of the workers in the hospital sick. And so half their workforce has been impacted, so they can't process this and make sure that the parents that need this money, get it. So there could be a lack of people being able to work. I don't know how virtual the child support service agencies are set up. I don't know that personally. But there could have been an issue there. They're trying to social distance and not everybody can be in the office.

Leh Meriwether: These are uncertain times. Nobody that's that's alive today has really gone through anything like this. So we're walking in unchartered territory. So all I can say is you've got to be patient. I mean, there's nothing wrong with following up, but be polite about it. I know you need it. Because these other people are struggling to get by too.

Todd Orston: And the other thing that I would refer to, and refer people to, is we just did a podcast on support arrearages. I'm not going to go into all the detail we went into in that podcast on child support arrearages in COVID-19 era, but if you need to file a modification, then don't wait. Because again, here's a perfect example of a situation where if you owe money and all of a sudden you're supposed to get a check, that check could be withheld if there's some finding that basically you are in arrears. And therefore they'll take that money to pay off that arrearage.

Todd Orston: So to try and put a stop to it, you must go out, be proactive, file the necessary modification. And as we said, and I'm summing this up dramatically, talk to an attorney. If you have questions about a modification, whether it applies, whether you could get one, speak to an attorney, and do so as soon as possible. Now, it may already be too late. I'm not sure, just because people are literally checking mailboxes now, hoping that their checks are in the mailbox. But again, be proactive. There are things that you can do during this crisis that will help you. And one of those, as it relates to this stimulus check, is make sure that you are complying with court orders. And if you find yourself in a situation where you can't, then be proactive and, legally speaking, do the things you need to do in order to protect yourself.

Leh Meriwether: Now, before we end the show, because this is one of those short shows where we're trying to get out more information. There is a great place. The IRS website has set up some great information. So if you haven't gotten your stimulus check yet, and you've got all kinds of questions, go to I know this is long. So if you research this, if you Google this, you'll probably find it. But economic-impact-payment-information-center. So you don't have to write all that down, just go IRS information on the economic impact payment. And that should pull up the website. And they answer something like 32 common questions right there.

Leh Meriwether: So like one example, if you go, "Hey, if I owe a payment, are they're going to seize it?" And it says right there on the IRS's website, "No, you won't owe. If you owe taxes, you're still going to get your stimulus check. The only exception is past-due child support." So that's on their website.

Leh Meriwether: And then also on their website, by the way, because this is important, we wanted to address this, what if you are married to someone who owes child support, you work full time and you want your stimulus check because you need it for the family? There is a form to file. It is form 8379. It's called Injured Spouse Allocation, form 8379. And by the way, it is on that website, on the website about coronavirus. And you go in there and there's a hyperlink in there, or you can just search form 8379 IRS. And then I think it's a one page form and you fill it out. I'm sorry, page and a half. So really simple. Fill it out, submit it. And then if you qualify, they will segment it out. So if the total payment, depending on where you are, was two grand, then a thousand will go for your husband or wife's past-due child support obligation and you'll get the rest. So they've actually orked that out.

Todd Orston: Great advice. Great advice.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, that form actually applies for regular tax returns too. But this should help. And if you are owed child support in this terrible time, my heart goes out to you, because if you have an obligor who's not paying and you're taking care of the kids and doing everything, and having to go through this, and have the kids at home because they're not in school...

Todd Orston: So you don't have the benefit of the lunch that may be provided in school. Daycare is... Well, you are the daycare. Yeah. I'll be honest with you. I don't know how some people are doing it.

Leh Meriwether: I'm impressed. I would struggle personally doing it. So, heart goes out to you, my hat off to you. And I know locally where we are we're trying to help folks that are in this situation at a personal level. But like you said, I don't know how they do it. It's impressive.

Leh Meriwether: And the court, don't think that judges don't take that into consideration too when you walk into court. Going back to our other episode about, is a time to file for a child support modification. So all these factors get looked at by the judge, not just the- The travesty of the COVID-19 in a co-parenting situation goes both ways for both parents. So they're going to look at both things. You think that's time?

Todd Orston: I think that's all for today. And please keep checking back. Leh, I know you have repeatedly stated during our podcasts that we are doing this to give you information you can use. If there are topics that are important to you, that you would like us to discuss, you can email us. Leh, you can give all the information I know at the end of every podcast. You give a lot of information. But you can email us. You can let us know what it is you'd like us to talk about. We are here for you. We are doing this, not because we like to listen to our own voices. I've said this before also. I don't. And I'm sorry you have to listen to us. But until a better option comes along, we're here to try in an entertaining way, give you information that means something, that is useful. And if there are topics you want to hear about, let us know and we'll make sure we include that in future podcasts.

Leh Meriwether: Exactly. And if you find this show helpful, please share it with other people. And also please go out. I know we ask this every time, but when people post positive reviews online, it helps the show grow in the rankings so that more people can be helped by the show, because that's what we're here for. We're here to help as many people as we can. Thanks so much for listening.