An income withholding order is an order for a specific amount of money to be withheld from an employee’s paycheck to pay child support. When a judge issues a child support order in Massachusetts, the order must include a provision for immediate income withholding (unless the judge suspends the withholding).
When DOR is notified of a new child support order, we issue an “Order/Notice of Order to Withhold Income for Child Support." This form is mandated by federal law.
An income withholding order is an order for you, the employer, to withhold income from your employee’s paycheck to pay for child support. Deducting child support from an employee's paycheck is similar to deducting tax payments.
Any employee who is ordered to pay child support through income withholding is required by law to notify you and to provide you with a copy of the income withholding order, upon your request.
If the employee has fallen behind in child support payments, we are legally authorized to increase the order by 25% without going back to court to ask the judge to change the order. We will send you a new income withholding order if there is any change to the amount you are deducting.
An income withholding order remains in effect until the court, DOR, or your employee provides you with written verification that the court order has terminated or has been modified.
Your obligations as an employer
You must begin withholding child support from your employee's paycheck immediately, starting with the first payroll date after you’ve received the income withholding order.
The court or DOR will inform your employee of the income withholding order. If your employee claims not to have received notice of the order, or has disputes with the amount being deducted, advise your employee to contact DOR.
You cannot delay processing the income withholding order, under any circumstances. If you fail to honor the order, you may be:
- Liable for the amount of income you failed to withhold and remit; and
- Penalized with a civil penalty equal to the amount you failed to remit or $500, whichever is greater.
Notice from DOR of the income withholding order is considered sufficient notice to you. DOR is not required to provide a copy of the court order for the support.
You cannot discipline or refuse to hire anyone because of an income withholding order. If you violate these state and federal laws, you are liable for:
- The payment of all wages and employment benefits lost by an employee or individual from the time of the unlawful discipline, suspension, refusal to hire, or discharge, to the period of reinstatement
- And an additional penalty of up to $1,000.
Limits on deductions from employees' paychecks
There is a limit on the amount of child support you can deduct from an employee’s paycheck. You cannot deduct more than 60% of an employee's disposable earnings (50% if the employee is supporting a spouse or other children in the household). If an employee is 12 or more weeks behind in child support payments, the limits increase to 65% and 55% respectively.
Disposable earnings are the earnings remaining after you deduct:
- Federal, state and local income taxes
- Social Security
- State unemployment insurance taxes
- And any deduction required under a state employment retirement system.
You must deduct child support payments from an employee’s disposable earnings before any other deductions, including:
- Union dues
- Credit union deductions
- Or voluntary retirement deductions
You apply the limit only if the child support order itself exceeds the permissible percentage. If, before you make any other deductions, you can deduct the full child support order from the employee’s disposable earnings without exceeding the permissible percentage, you must withhold the full amount.
You do not deduct child support only from your employee’s wages or salary. You must also deduct payments from any source of periodic compensation your employee receives, including:
- Severance pay
- Payments to independent contractors and others.
If you overpay child support, you can't deduct that amount for the next payment. You are required to send DOR the amount ordered by the court. If you think you overpaid on a child support case, contact our Employer Services Unit immediately at (800) 332-2733 (local callers, 617-660-1234), fax us at 617-887-7560, or email us.
Changes in employment
If the employee with an income withholding order stops working for your company, or the employee is a seasonable employee whose employment ends, you should:
- Notify us that the individual no longer works for your company.
- Provide us with any information you have about the name and address of the new employer. You can do this by calling our Employer Services Unit at (800) 332-2733 (local callers, 617-660-1234), fax us at 617-887-7560, or email us, or by adding it to the Employer Remittance Form (ERF).
- Advise the individual of his or her legal obligation to notify the court and us of any subsequent employment.
If the employee returns to work for your company, follow the instructions for submitting new hire reports and include the employee in this report.
If your company lays off an employee with an income withholding order, you must notify us immediately. If the employee returns to your company within 30 days after the lay-off, you should begin deducting child support payments immediately according to the income withholding order and notify us of the return to work. If the employee returns after more than 30 days, follow the instructions for submitting new hire reports and include the employee in the report.
Receiving an income withholding order from another state
An income withholding order issued by one state may be sent directly to the parent's employer in another state. You must honor an order if it is similar to the Income Withholding Order we issue.
You must also:
- Give a copy of the order to the employee immediately
- Send the child support payment to the address of the state child support payment processing center that appears on the income withholding order, and
- Continue to honor the notice until you receive official notice from the child support enforcement agency or the court of the state that issued the order.
You may not consolidate any payments you make while following an order from another state into the payment you send to DOR.