Pennsylvania Child Support Garnishment Limits, Exemptions and Protections

Wage garnishment law in Pennsylvania follows the wage garnishment limits set forth in the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) when withholding the wages of a noncustodial parent. These maximum wage garnishment limits vary, and can change if the noncustodial parent is supporting a second family and/or is late on support payments. Further, a withholding order for child support garnishment takes priority over all other state-issued orders. It's also important to note that Pennsylvania law protects an employee who is discriminated against by their employer on the basis of their support order assignment. An employer who discriminates on these grounds may be subject to damages, fines, and imprisonment.

Garnishment Limits and Exemptions

In Pennsylvania, an employee's income can only be garnished up to a maximum amount, provided the income meets the CCPA's definition of "earnings." The CCPA defines "earnings" as any income that is paid or payable for personal services. To calculate the earnings that are protected by these withholding limits, you first must subtract deductions from the earnings that are required by law. These can include state and federal income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare deductions. The earnings left after these deductions are called "disposable earnings," and are subject to protection. Voluntary deductions made from the employee's paycheck are included within the "disposable earnings" total. Under Pennsylvania law and the CCPA, the maximum percentage of the "disposable earnings" that can be withheld is calculated as follows:

  • 50% if the employee supports a second family;
  • 55% if the employee supports a second family and owes more than twelve weeks of back payments for the support order;
  • 60% if the employee does not support a second family; and
  • 65% if the employee does not support a second family and does not owe more than twelve weeks of back payments for the support order.

Allocation and Priority

Occasionally an employer will be served with more than one support order for the same employee. The employer should honor all support orders, but should not deduct more than the CCPA withholding limits. If there are not enough allowable "disposable earnings" to cover all support payments, Pennsylvania requires that current support be allocated first. If there is more than one current support order, the payment is allocated based on the percentage the support payment takes of the total disposable earnings. If there are enough allowable disposable earnings to cover the current support, the employer should then deduct for medical support premiums, arrears, and medical support arrears, in that order.

A withholding for a support order takes priority over all other state-issued orders, and as of October 17, 2005, support orders take priority over Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment orders as well. This means that when an employer receives another type of withholding order, or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment order issued on or after October 17, 2005, they should withhold for the support order first, regardless of whether the other order came before or after the support order.

However, note that IRS levies always take priority over support orders. When an employer receives both an IRS levy and a support order for the same employee, they should contact the IRS agent listed on the levy notice. In many cases the IRS agent will agree to accommodate the support order. If the agent does agree to accommodation, the employer should obtain this consent in writing and go on to contact the Pennsylvania court or agency that issued the support order to inform them of the IRS levy.

Protection from Discrimination

If an employer refuses to hire, terminates, demotes, or otherwise discriminates against an employee or applicant subject to a withholding order, the employee or applicant can bring a civil action for damages against the employer. In addition, the employer may be subject to imprisonment and fines in Pennsylvania.