Child support is taken very seriously in our country. The obligor (the parent who is required to pay the child support) is required to pay child support to the obligee (the parent who is receiving the child support) until either the child attains the age of 18 or the child finishes high school. Even if the obligor loses their job, the money remains owed and is not dischargeable. If the obligor fails to pay child support as ordered by the court, the obligee may file a motion to enforce the obligor’s child obligation. Allowing your arrears balance to build up could result in loss of your driver’s license, wage garnishment directly out of your paycheck, immediate garnishment of your tax return, and even garnishment of your bank account(s).
In Pennsylvania the domestic relations section is granted the power to initiate judicial proceedings to obtain a settlement from the obligor in the best interest of the child support obligee via 23 Pa.C.S.A. 4305(a)(11). “Overdue support shall be a lien by operation of law against the net proceeds of any monetary award…owed to an obligor, and distribution of any such award shall be stayed in an amount equal to the child support lien provided for…” Pennsylvania goes as far as requiring a prevailing party of a monetary award to provide under 18 Pa.C.S. § 4904 a statement that includes that party’s full name, mailing address, date of birth and Social Security number. The person is also required to provide written documentation of arrears from the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System website or, if no arrears exist, written documentation from the website indicating no arrears. The statute further provides that if there are arrears, the attorney shall make payment of any lien to the department’s state disbursement unit from the net proceeds of any monetary award.
However, a Circuit Court in Maryland in 2010 decided that money recovered from a personal injury lawsuit is exempt from garnishment. This was then affirmed by the Special Appeals Court.
With regard to calculation of child support, a personal injury settlement could be viewed as either a reimbursement for damages sustained (pain and suffering) or a payment for future loss of income, or even both. States have differing opinions on whether or not a personal injury settlement should be considered income. Some states view settlements as reimbursement for damage to an individual’s body similar to how vehicles are damaged in accidents. In that case, generally a lump sum, extraordinary and nonrecurring payment is made to an individual. Many states would not consider that income when calculating income for child support purposes. A structured settlement or annuity however may be viewed as income because it is generally for the purpose of replacing income that is not able to be earned as a result of an injury. This would generally be calculated as income for support purposes.
You may want to contact a family law lawyer relies on or your personal injury attorney to discuss your settlement and the possibility of the your settlement proceeds being frozen and applied to your arrearage balance before accepting any settlement.