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VA Benefits, Garnishment, and Child Support

Family Law & Military Families

This article explains how the court may order or enforce child support when a veteran receives VA compensation or pension benefits.

If you are a veteran with a child support obligation who receives VA compensation or VA pension, you still must pay the child support ordered. Even though garnishment is not available, there are other ways to enforce your child support obligation. This article will explain common situations and how the court may order or enforce child support when a veteran receives VA compensation or pension benefits. 

This article is not meant to discuss garnishment when it involves active-duty military pay, only garnishment of VA compensation and VA pension benefits.

Garnishment: What does it mean?

Garnishment is when a court orders money or property to be taken in order to pay a debt owed.

Child support typically can be garnished from federal income or benefits such as social security retirement and federal income tax returns. However, garnishment is usually prohibited when it comes to VA compensation and VA pension. But this does not mean that a veteran receiving such benefits does not have to pay child support.

Can a court consider a veteran’s VA compensation benefits as “income” when determining child support obligations?

Yes, the court can consider the VA compensation benefits as “income” when deciding the amount of child support owed. Texas Family Code 154.062(b)(5) lists what the court may include as net resources when calculating child support, and service-connected VA compensation benefits are included in that list.

Read about Veterans’ Service-Connected Disability Compensation for details. 

Can a court consider a veteran’s VA pension benefits as “income” when determining child support obligations?

No, Texas Family Code 154.062(b)(5) clearly states that “non-service-connected” VA pension cannot be considered in net resources when deciding the amount of child support. However, even if the VA pension benefits are the veteran’s only source of earnings, the court could still order child support at minimum wage.

Read about Non-Service-Connected VA Pension Benefits for details.

Can VA compensation or pension benefits be garnished to satisfy a court-ordered child support obligation?

For both compensation and pension benefits, the answer in most cases is no. Federal law states that garnishment cannot apply to VA compensation benefits. 38 U.S.C. 5301. There are some limited exceptions, but this article does not address these more complex issues.

If garnishment cannot be used to collect the child support ordered, does this mean a veteran does not have to pay the child support?

Even though garnishment cannot be used to collect child support from VA compensation or pension benefits, a veteran receiving such benefits still must pay the child support ordered.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that when a child support amount is not paid as ordered, the veteran could face an enforcement action, even though garnishment is not allowed. An enforcement lawsuit can ask the court to find a veteran in contempt of court for not paying court-ordered child support. In Texas, if a court finds you in contempt of court, this can lead to jail time or probation.

So how does a veteran avoid an enforcement lawsuit if garnishment cannot be used to pay the child support?

As long as the child support ordered is paid, the veteran will not face an enforcement action related to child support. You can pay your child support with cash, money order, credit card, bank draft, or any other way listed on the website of the Office of the Attorney General.

Do not pay child support directly to the other parent. All child support payments should go through the Texas Child Support State Disbursement Unit (SDU). Paying child support through the SDU protects you by keeping track of the payments you have made and providing the court with an official record.

If a veteran later receives Social Security retirement benefits, can those be garnished for child support?

Once a veteran starts receiving social security retirement benefits (which can be as early as age 62), those benefits can be garnished. So even though federal VA compensation and pension benefits cannot be garnished, the federal social security retirement benefits can be garnished for the payment of child support.

In Texas, up to 50% of social security retirement benefits may be taken to satisfy unpaid child support obligations. The Social Security Administration supplies more information on social security retirement benefits and garnishment.

What is “apportionment,” and can it be used to pay child support from my VA benefits?

“Apportionment” allows the Department of Veteran Affairs to pay child support obligations directly from VA benefits for some dependents of the veteran. However, it is not automatic just because there is a court order for child support. The person who receives child support payment must apply to receive the apportionment out of the veteran’s VA benefits to pay the support. The veteran can protest the apportionment, but agreeing to the apportionment can help ensure that the child support is paid. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs will not approve an apportionment if it would cause the veteran undue hardship.

Read Apportionment of the Veteran’s Benefits to Dependents for details. 

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