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Can A Child Support Agency Garnish An Accident Settlement For Arrears?

Being offered an accident settlement from the at-fault driver's insurance company can be a relief, as the compensation should be enough to cover medical expenses and bills that are piling up. Some individuals are in circumstances where they -- or their spouse -- owe back payments for child support and wonder if the agency can take any of the settlement money. If you're in this type of situation, learn more about child support arrears and injury settlements.

Garnishments for Arrears

Whether or not an accident settlement can be garnished for child support arrears depends on the state where you live. Some laws specifically exclude funds that are paid in the event of accident or injury, meaning the child support agency could not directly take money from your settlement.

Other states, however, do allow this type of lien. In some states, you would receive the balance of the settlement after all the arrears are paid -- if anything is left. In contrast, some states require a certain percentage of the settlement to be paid for the support arrears, while the injured person receives the rest.

Still another possibility is for your state laws to exclude a certain dollar amount from a child support lien. You would receive at least that amount of compensation, even if the rest of the settlement was diverted to arrears payments.

A Lien on Your Spouse's Arrears

A more aggravating circumstance may occur when one spouse is injured and is offered a settlement and the other spouse owes back child support payments. Laws in some states allow the agency to garnish that settlement for the spouse's child support obligations, or a certain amount of it. 

Declining a Settlement

There may be another option if the entire settlement would go to child support arrears and you would get no cash. You may be able to decline the settlement altogether, but only if the court hasn't already ordered the settlement funds to be used for this debt.

Keep in mind that no matter how vindictive you might feel toward your ex, this strategy works against you. You'll still owe the back payments, and not resolving this issue could eventually land you in serious legal trouble. 

What You Can Do Now

Contact a car accident attorney for a free consultation if you need more details on child support issues related to personal injury settlements in your state. The lawyer can tell you whether your current settlement offer is unreasonably low, in which case you may want to hire this attorney to acquire a higher amount for you. There may be enough to pay off the entire arrears amount as well as your medical expenses and outstanding bills.