All states now have an automatic income withholding program that attaches part of a parent’s wages to pay the child support obligation. The federal Family Support Act requires all states to implement an automatic income withholding program to comply with child support orders that were made or modified on or after January 1, 1994. Not all states make it mandatory, but a program is in place.
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Automatic income withholding may occur after the court orders the noncustodial parent to pay child support. The custodial parent (or court) sends a copy of the court order to the employer of the noncustodial parent, who withholds the appropriate amount and sends it to the custodial parent or to the state agency that collects and distributes child support.
When a noncustodial parent does not receive regular wages but does have a regular source of income, such as a pension, a retirement fund, an annuity, unemployment compensation, or other public benefits, the court orders the child support withheld from these as well. The court sends the information to the retirement plan administrator or public agency paying benefits instead of forwarding a copy of the order and the custodial parent’s name and address to an employer. However, when the Income is from Social Security or a private pension governed by either ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) or REA (Retirement Equity Act), the administrator might not honor the court order because Social Security and many private pensions have “anti-alienation” clauses prohibiting payment to anyone but the beneficiary.