Even Federal Agencies Are Bound to Comply with Child Support Orders
New Jersey, like most other states, takes the issue of child support seriously. There are processes in place to aid those seeking to collect child support and stiff penalties for those who fail to make their payments. If, after reading the following, you need a Hunterdon County lawyer to assist you with child support issues, contact The Rotolo Law Firm, located in Lebanon, NJ.
Ensuring the payment of child support is primarily the responsibility of individual states. The federal government, however, does provide financial support to state agencies entrusted with this job. In addition, legislation is in place prohibiting someone from using a bankruptcy filing to avoid child support obligations, and it is a federal crime to willfully avoid such payments by moving to another state. Still it is the state’s responsibility to enforce court orders, and even federal agencies are bound to comply with state-ordered child support payments. (1)
States have various means by which they can enforce payment of child support, including garnishment of wages or unemployment payments and liens on or the seizure and sale of property. Even Social Security payments, which are exempt from most garnishments, can be attached for child support payments. (2) While the Social Security Administration (SSA) is bound to comply with state-ordered child support payments, it is immune from suits for damages resulting from its failure to follow such orders. (3)
This immunity was upheld recently by a New Jersey appeals court in the case of Jacobson v. U.S., in which lawyers for the plaintiff claimed the SSA failed to withhold money from disability payments made to Steven Tetz in order to satisfy child support payments for which Mr. Tetz was in arrears. (3)
Mindy Jacobson sought and was granted child support from Mr. Tetz for their daughter in 1998. In 2004 a second order directing the garnishment of Mr. Tetz’s disability payments was issued by the Office of Child Support Division of New Jersey’s Department of Human Services. The SSA, however, failed to garnish any portion of a $58,948 retroactive disability payment made to Mr. Tetz in December 2007 claiming the agency never received the notice. At the time of Mr. Tetz’s death in March 2008, he was $79,546 in arrears on child support. (3)
Ms. Jacobson originally filed suit in federal court against Mr. Tetz’s estate and the U.S. government seeking damages for the SSA’s failure to comply with the state’s garnishment order. That case was dismissed without prejudice, allowing Ms. Jacobson to re-file at the state level. In December 2008, she filed a suit with the Mercer County Law Division and was awarded $43,894 in compensatory damages along with an additional $75,125 in prejudgment fees, attorney’s fees and related costs. The judge hearing that case found that sovereign immunity did not apply since the federal government failed to contest the charges. (3)
In an appeal heard earlier this month, the award was reversed on the basis that the action was prohibited because of sovereign immunity, which could only be waived by Congressional action. Judges hearing the appeal noted that while the federal Child Support Enforcement Act, passed in 1974, requires federal agencies to comply with garnishment orders, it does not hold those agencies liable for damages that may result from failure to do so. (3)
If you are involved in a child support issue in Hunterdon County, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm.