How Does a Bank Levy for Child Support Work?

Federal law mandates child support collection efforts such as bank levies.

Although child support laws vary from state to state, no jurisdiction will let you go indefinitely without paying. Eventually, the government will take collection efforts against you. All states can levy your bank account if you don't voluntarily pay. Federal law not only allows states to do it, it obligates them to take certain steps, including a bank levy, to collect from you.

When It Might Happen

The process varies based on the state. Arizona won't begin the levy process until you've accumulated 12 months of arrears, or past due support. California starts the collection process as soon as you're a month late or $100 overdue, whichever happens first. As of July 2004, the California State Franchise Tax Board (FTB) receives every child support order for collection as soon as the judge signs it. If you make your payments on time, nothing will come of this. But if you're late, the FTB will start collection efforts. If you're behind with your child support, consult with an attorney in your state to determine how much time you have to get caught up before the state takes action.

Notice to Obligor

Massachusetts sends you an official notice before the state levies your bank account. You have 30 days to catch up on your payments before the state takes action. Arizona does not give you notice. That state sends a notice of levy directly to your banking institution, and the banking institution must forward it on to you. You have 15 days from the postmarked date to pay your past due support to avoid your account being levied.

Seizing Your Account

Arizona will not totally deplete your bank account; it will leave you $250. Your bank must send the balance of your money, up to the amount you owe in past due support, to the Division of Child Support Enforcement. In Massachusetts, your bank is obligated to "freeze" your account for the money you owe for 21 days after it receives a levy notice. Your money remains in your account, but you can't access it. After 21 days, your bank forwards the money to the Department of Revenue. If you owe more than what was in your account, the state will empty your account. If you owe less, the state can only take up to the amount you owe. These laws vary somewhat from state to state, but generally the state can take up to the full amount you owe. Once your bank receives the notice of levy, it either freezes your account until the matter is resolved one way or the other or sends the money immediately to the child support collection unit.

What You Can Do

You have the right to object to a bank levy. In Massachusetts, when you receive the notice from the state, you also receive a "bank levy response form." Complete it and send it back, providing the reasons you think the levy is unjust. You can also request a review by the court. All states give you a period of time to try to stop the levy, but the procedure may be different from state to state. If your account is levied, contact an attorney immediately to learn your options.

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