The size of your child support obligation depends on many factors including the incomes of you and your spouse, the number of children you have to support, and the state in which you live. However, the maximum amount that can be withheld from your paycheck for child support is set by federal law.
Child Support Obligation
Every parent is legally obligated to provide financial support for his children until they are emancipated. If one parent is awarded physical custody, generally the other parent is ordered to make monthly child support payments. In the case of joint, or shared, custody, the wealthier spouse may still be required to pay child support. Each state sets its own standards for determining support amounts, taking into account the financial positions of the two parents and the total number of dependents. Many states, like California, have standard guidelines from which a court can depart only for good cause.
Collecting Child Support
Your child support obligation and the amount of your paycheck that can be withheld for child support are two different animals. Your state divorce court determines the amount of child support you owe the other parent each month. But federal law sets a cap on how much child support can be automatically withheld from your paycheck by garnishment. Any portion of a child support obligation that exceeds the amount that can be legally withheld is subject to other collection procedures.
Wage garnishment is one way a creditor can collect money from a debtor. Essentially, wage garnishment allows a creditor to get the first bite of a debtor's paycheck, rather than being forced to accept whatever is left in the debtor's account at the end of the month. Under wage garnishment, the debtor's employer is ordered to withhold an amount from the debtor's paycheck then forward it directly to the creditor. In many states, every child support order contains an automatic wage withholding order.
The Bottom Line
The part of your wages that can be attached for child support under federal law is topped at 65 percent of your paycheck. This means that, no matter how large your child support obligation may be, the amount taken out of your paycheck cannot exceed the maximum 65 percent. Up to 50 percent of your paycheck can be withheld if you are also supporting a current wife, or a child who is not included in the support order; up to 60 percent can be withheld if you are not. And the 60 percent can increase by 5 percent if you are in arrears. Some states set smaller maximum percentages, so ask at your family court clerk's office or child support enforcement office.