California Laws on the Interception of a Tax Refund for Child Support Arrears

by Tom Streissguth

    If you have a child support order under California law, you have the right to have the order enforced through tax refund interception. Since 1993, California's Franchise Tax Board has had the authority to enforce child support orders through the interception of tax refunds due from the state as well as the Internal Revenue Service. This, along with other remedies, are available to the custodial parent if the non-custodial parent is not paying court-ordered child support or paying less than the amount ordered.

    Federal Tax Intercepts

    Federal law permits the interception of federal tax refunds for the payment of past-due child support. When support is owed to a government agency, the past-due amount must be at least $150 and the balance delinquent for at least three months. In cases where the child support is owed to a custodial parent on behalf of a minor child, the minimum past-due amount is $500.

    State Tax Refund Intercepts

    California allows the interception of state tax refunds from the Franchise Tax Board, the state income tax agency. The Department of Child Support Services, also known as DCSS, reports all child support arrearages to the FTB. When notified of an arrearage, the FTB intercepts any refunds owed to the non-custodial parent and sends the money to the State Disbursement Unit, which then pays the arrearages to the custodial parent.

    Warning Notices

    The non-custodial parent will receive a Pre-Offset Notice from DCSS when the child support arrearage reaches $100. These notices are mailed out annually until the case is resolved. As soon as the non-custodial parent files a tax return that is eligible for a refund, the IRS or FTB will send him a Notice of Intercept, stating the amount of the refund and amount to be intercepted. The refund reaches the state's disbursement unit six to eight weeks later. The non-custodial parent has the right to appeal this action.

    Spousal Relief

    If the California non-custodial parent has filed a joint tax return, but is still behind on child support payments, the entire refund is still subject to interception. However, the spouse who is not the non-custodial parent in arrears can file an Injured Spouse Claim with the IRS for a refund of her portion of the federal refund. The FTB will also consider claims from what is known in state law as the “innocent spouse.”

    About the Author

    Tom Streissguth has authored more than 100 books for the school and library market, including works for the Gale, Enslow, Facts on File and Lerner Publications. He is the founder of The Archive, an independent publisher of historical journalism collections, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University.