Veterans Benefits and Child Support

Can veteran’s benefits be taken away to pay child support?

As a general rule, yes. While most federal benefits, including veterans benefits, generally cannot be withheld, attached, garnished, or otherwise taken by a creditor in an attempt to collect on a debt, child support is an exception, as is spousal maintenance (alimony). A.R.S. § 12-1539(B); 42 U.S.C. § 659

If veterans benefits are an individual's only source of income, does a person still have to pay child support?

Yes. If the child’s other parent obtains a court order for child support, the benefit's recipient must comply with that order even if veterans benefits are the only source of income.

Can veterans benefits be garnished as earnings to pay child support?

It depends. It certain situations, the child’s other parent can get a court order to garnish the benefits as earnings, and in other situations they cannot. If the benefits are garnished as earnings, it means that Veterans Affairs will be ordered to send some of the benefits directly to the other parent.

Can veterans benefits be garnished as non-earnings to pay child support after they are deposited into a bank account? 

It depends. It certain situations, the other parent can get a court order to garnish the benefits as non-earnings, and in other situations they cannot. If benefits are garnished as non-earnings, it means that the bank or other financial institution where the benefits go can be ordered to take money from the account and send it to the other parent.

If benefits cannot be garnished, can the child’s other parent still ask Veterans Affairs to send them some of the benefits?

Yes. The other parent can ask Veterans Affairs for an “apportionment,” which means that a portion of the benefits will be sent directly to the other parent as a child support payment. 38 U.S.C. § 5307; 38 C.F.R. § 3.450 et seq.

How is apportionment different from garnishment?

Although garnishment and apportionment work the same way, garnishment is a court process, while apportionment is an administrative process that happens entirely within Veterans Affairs.

Veterans Affairs makes apportionment decisions by attempting to balance the needs of the veteran with the needs of the child. 38 C.F.R. § 3.451

Ordinarily, the other parent must file for an apportionment before Veterans Affairs will consider garnishment. 

If veterans benefits cannot be garnished, and are not apportioned, what other options does the other parent have if I refuse to pay child support?

The other parent has various options. For example, they can ask the court to hold the debtor in contempt for violating the child support order. If the court holds the debtor in contempt, it can order that they be arrested. A.R.S. § 25-502(I); A.R.S. § 25-681 

The other parent can also ask the Arizona Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) to enforce the court’s order. Depending on how far they have fallen behind on child support payments, once DCSS gets involved, it can (among other things):