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Can Child Support Be Cut from a Personal Injury Settlement?

One of the obligations of being a parent is supporting your children financially, and South Carolina goes to great lengths to get parents to pay child support where appropriate. To that end, the state can intercept your annual tax refund to pay for any child support arrears which have accrued. The state might take other action or even seize property.

But what about personal injury settlements, can child support be cut from a personal injury settlement? If you were involved in a car crash or other accident, you could have suffered serious injuries. A settlement helps pay for your medical expenses and replace lost income, as well as fix or replace damaged property. You also should have received compensation for your pain and suffering.

Under state law, however, your personal injury settlement can be used to pay child support debt. Contact Surasky Law to find out more.

Do You Have Unpaid Child Support?

The state won’t seize any portion of your personal injury settlement unless you are late on child support payments. Typically, child support is deducted automatically from your paycheck and is sent to the custodial parent. You never see this money, and it happens without any involvement from you.

However, you might be unemployed or between jobs. If you don’t make your required monthly payment, then you begin accruing child support arrears. In this situation, the state will probably look to take some sort of collection action, and they might look at your personal injury settlement.

South Carolina Law on Child Support Liens

South Carolina’s Division for Social Services (DSS) is primarily responsible for enforcing child support. The agency can also take collection action when a parent accrues unpaid child support.

Under S.C. § 63-17-2720, the Division can act whenever unpaid child support equals at least $1,000. The Division will send a written notice to the parent who is behind on support. This parent has the right to request administrative review of the amount owed and should submit a timely request within 30 days.

Under Section 63-17-2730(A)(2), the Division can file notice of a child support lien on the obligor’s personal property. According to DSS, the Division can put a lien on the following settlements:

  • Auto bodily harm liability

  • General liability

  • Workers’ compensation

  • Life insurance

The lien stays in place until you pay your child support arrears or the Division releases the lien. The Division can extend the lien for many years with proper notice.

Section 63-17-2740 also gives the Division the power to “levy” on the property. Essentially, this means they can seize it. Banks will turn over money in an account, or an attorney will need to send a portion of your settlement to the state.

What Does this Mean for You?

As you can see, DSS has ample powers to seize a personal injury settlement. If you were involved in a car accident and received a settlement for bodily harm, then the Division can take a portion from your settlement to cover unpaid child support.

What usually happens is the Division contacts your attorney, who has notice of the lien. Once you reach a settlement (or win at trial), the defendant sends money to your attorney, who deposits it into a trust account. Your attorney deducts the costs of the litigation, along with the amount agreed to in your contingency fee agreement. Your attorney will also need to pay the child support lien off by sending money to DSS.

What happens if DSS is late getting a lien filed? If you’ve already received your money and deposited it in a bank, then the Division will probably levy your bank account. South Carolina gives them this power. That means they can force the bank to hand over an amount equal to your child support debt.

Can You Negotiate with the State?

Before putting a lien on any settlement, DSS must send you notice. As mentioned above, you can request an administrative review, where you can discuss your injuries and any upcoming settlement. For example, you might have expensive medical bills you need to pay with settlement funds. If the state took all of your settlement for child support arrears, then you would be left with nothing.

You can discuss your financial situation and request that DSS let you keep some or all of your settlement. The state doesn’t have an incentive to bankrupt you. However, you can expect them to decline to let you keep everything.

Unfortunately, some people completely ignore the written notice sent to them by DSS. They hope the state never finds out about the personal injury settlement so they won’t have to turn any of it over to the custodial parent. Ignoring the notice is a mistake, however. The state will likely find out about the settlement when you file your taxes.

What Else Can the State Take?

As mentioned above, they can intercept both state and federal income tax refunds to pay child support debt. The state can put a lien on pretty much any real or personal property that you own.

What Steps Can You Take to Avoid This?

One step is to stay current on your child support. If you are injured in a wreck and can’t work, notify DSS promptly. Child support obligations remain in effect unless modified.

Another step is to hire an experienced personal injury attorney to represent you in your case. A seasoned advocate knows how to increase the amount of compensation offered in a settlement or awarded by a jury. The more money you receive for your accident, the more you can take home even after unpaid child support is deducted.

Contact an Aiken, SC Personal Injury Attorney Today

Surasky Law has helped men and women involved in accidents receive compensation so they can face the future with courage. Please contact our firm today. We have helped many clients navigate the process of receiving full compensation following an accident. Our legal team will immediately begin gathering evidence in support of your claim and discuss your legal options for financial recovery. Please pick up the phone and call today. Our consultations are free.


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