Intercepting Tax Refunds to Cover Unpaid Child Support

How You Can Get the Federal Government to Help You

Image shows a parent with a small child on their lap. Text reads:

Image by Kelly Miller © The Balance 2020

The tax refunds of individuals who owe back child support can be intercepted by the government through the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program.

Eligibility for the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program

Not all delinquent child support cases are eligible for the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program. In order for an individual's tax refund to be intercepted for unpaid child support through the program, certain minimums apply.

If the child support recipient receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, child support must be at least $150 in arrears. If the recipient does not receive assistance, child support must be at least $500 in arrears.

Usually, the state where the custodial parent lives—the parent who is owed child support—submits the debt for the Federal Tax Refund Offset. If multiple states are involved, then each state must submit for the offset. The parent who is behind on payments will receive a separate notice for each state's debt and has the right to contest each state's debt amount.

How the Program Works

State child support agencies submit the names, Social Security numbers, and amounts of past-due support of people who are behind in their payments to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.

The federal office then makes a list of those cases that are eligible for the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program. That list is submitted to the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service.

The Treasury Department sends a Pre-Offset Notice to let the parent who is behind on payments know that part or all of their federal tax refund is scheduled to be intercepted and sent to the child support recipient. The notice explains the process and shows the amount of past-due support owed at the time of the notice. The Pre-Offset Notice includes information about the Federal Tax Refund Offset, passport denial, and other actions the child support agency may take to enforce a support obligation. It also includes information about how to contest the debt amount.

The state that submitted the case typically receives money from a tax refund offset within two to three weeks. If the tax refund offset is from a jointly filed tax return, the state may hold the money for up to six months before disbursing.

The actual amount that the Treasury Department deducts from the tax refund may differ from the amount on the Pre-Offset Notice based on updated activity on the support obligation. The state updates the debt amount regularly, but may not issue a new notice each time the debt amount changes.

How to Make a Request Pertaining to Your Case

If you believe that your case should be eligible for the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program, or you suspect that the other parent has received their tax refund in error, contact your local Office of Child Support Enforcement.

Other Actions for Getting Child Support

When child support is not paid regularly, you can request that the Office of Child Support Enforcement help you take actions to collect monthly and past-due amounts.

Other actions the federal government can pursue include wage garnishment, suspension of driver's licenses, levies on financial accounts, liens on property, and debt reporting to credit bureaus.​

Source: "Federal Tax Refund Offset Program," Federal Parent Locator Service, Administration for Children and Families, 5 Mar. 2009. <>.

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Article Sources

  1. Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. "Tax Refund Offset Program." Accessed April 24, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "When Is a Child Support Case Eligible for the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program?" Accessed April 24, 2020.

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "How Does the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program Work?" Accessed April 24, 2020.

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Services. "What Happens If Child Support Isn't Paid?" Accessed April 24, 2020.