Massachusetts Child Support Garnishment Limits, Exemptions and Protections
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While any form of income is subject to child support garnishment, Massachusetts child support garnishment limits do offer the noncustodial parent's income some protection. Depending on whether the noncustodial parent is supporting a second family, or is late on their support payments, Massachusetts garnishment law limits garnishment to between 50% and 65% of the noncustodial parent's disposable earnings. Further, while child support garnishment can mean extra work for an employer, an employer will be subject to heavy liabilities if they discriminate against an employee on the basis of a support order.
Garnishment Limits and Exemptions
While all sources of a noncustodial parent's income are subject to withholding in Massachusetts, some of this income is protected by withholding limits. To determine the income subject to these protections, Massachusetts follows the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). First, the employer should subtract all of the legally required deductions from the employee's earnings. Legally required deductions are limited to federal, state, and local income taxes, Social Security and Medicare, and mandatory deductions/contributions for state disability insurance, state unemployment insurance, state pension systems for public sector employees, as well as contributions for the Railroad Retirement Act. After these deductions are made, you are left with the noncustodial parent's "disposable earnings." This is the amount then subject to the following maximum withholding limits in Massachusetts:
- 50% if the employee supports a second family;
- 55% if the employee supports a second family and is more than twelve weeks behind on support payments;
- 60% if the employee does not support another family; and
- 65% if the employee does not support another family and is not more than twelve weeks behind on support payments.
Remember that even when an employer receives a support order from a state with different withholding limits, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act mandates that the laws of the state in which the employee works be followed to determine the maximum withholding limits.
Allocation and Priority
When an employee is assigned more than one order for support, and does not have enough disposable earnings to cover all payments, the employer must allocate the support payments according to a set order for prioritization. The current support should be allocated first, based on the ratio the current support takes of the allowable disposable earnings. If there are any allowable disposable earnings leftover, the employer should then deduct for arrearages.
An order for support takes priority over most other withholding orders. If an employer receives a state-issued withholding order for an employee subject to an order for support, they should withhold for the support order first. This is also true for Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment orders that were issued on or after October 17, 2005. It does not matter if the other withholding order was issued before or after the order for support – the employer should always prioritize the support order first in these cases. In the case of an IRS levy, however, the employer should withhold for the levy first. The employer can contact the IRS about the support order to see if they will accommodate the order. If they agree to this, which many times they will, the employer should get this in writing. The employer should also contact the issuing agency or court about the IRS levy.
Protection from Discrimination
An employer is prohibited from discriminating against both current and prospective employees on the basis of a support order. If the employer refuses to hire, demotes, terminates, or otherwise discriminates against an individual subject to a support order, they will be held liable for the employee's lost wages and benefits as well as a civil penalty of up to $1,000.