California Child Support Garnishment Limits, Exemptions and Protections

While some of the noncustodial parent’s income is protected by California garnishment law withholding limits, the noncustodial parent should be aware that these protections only apply to “earnings” as defined by the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). The maximum child support garnishment limits vary, depending on if the noncustodial parent is supporting another family or if they are behind on their support payments. Child support orders take priority over most other types of withholding orders under California child support garnishment law.

Garnishment Limits and Exemptions

In California, income that does not meet the CCPA definition of "earnings" is not protected by a maximum withholding amount. However, income that does meet the CCPA definition of earnings, such as wages, salary, bonuses, and retirement benefits, is protected by a maximum withholding limit. After subtracting from these earnings the deductions that are required by law, the remainder is considered the employee’s “disposable earnings.” Disposable earnings are usually limited to 50% withholding in California. However, California also recognizes CCPA limits, and if a higher limit is required in the order, the employer should honor this. Under the CCPA, the maximum amount an employer can deduct from an employee’s disposable earnings is:

  • 50% if the employee supports a second family;
  • 55% if the employee supports a second family and is more than twelve weeks past due on support payments;
  • 60% if the employee does not support a second family; and
  • 65% if the employee does not support a second family or is more than twelve weeks past due on support payments.

Allocation and Priority

Even when an employee is subject to two or more support orders, the employer must abide by the withholding limits. The employer should follow the limit that is most favorable to the employee, which in this case is the California maximum withholding limit of 50% of disposable earnings. When the total allowable amount of disposable earnings is less than the amount owed on the support orders, California uses the pro rata method to determine how much of the available disposable earnings each support order is entitled to. The pro rata method is based on the relative percentage of each order to the total amount of all orders. When there is more than one support order, the current order takes priority over arrears, and cash support deductions take priority over any medical premiums owed. An order issued by the California Franchise Tax Board is issued to collect arrears, and requires that the employer withhold 50% of the employee’s disposable earnings.

When an employer receives both a support order and another type of state-issued withholding order for the same employee, the support order takes priority, even if the other withholding order was received before the support order. As of October 17, 2005, support orders also take priority over Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment orders. This means that if an employer has received a withholding order for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy that is dated on or after October 17, 2005, the employer should still withhold for the support order first.

Note that the one exception to this general rule of priority for support orders is an IRS levy. An IRS levy will always take initial priority over a support order. However, the IRS has been known to be flexible when it comes to withholding for support orders, and many times will accommodate the order if contacted. If the IRS agrees to accommodate the support order and subordinate its own levy, employers should make sure to get this in writing from the IRS, and then proceed to notify the agency that issued the order about the existence of the IRS levy.

Protection from Discrimination

Any California employer who discriminates against an employee or refuses to hire a job applicant because they are subject to a support order may receive up to $500 in civil fines.