Can Proceeds From an Inheritance Be Intercepted for Back Child Support Owed?

by Kay Bosworth, Demand Media

    If children are involved when a marriage or other relationship ends, the state steps in to oversee their welfare. The state court orders child support, or child maintenance, to be paid by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent. Even when custody is legally shared, one parent generally pays child support.

    Arrearages

    The Child Support Enforcement Program is an intergovernmental program established by the federal government to assist states in operating effective child support programs and ensuring that support payments are kept up. When a noncustodial parent falls behind in support payments, the state or county CSE office initiates income withholding and other techniques to obtain the amount past due.

    Sources of Back Pay

    In addition to income withholding, other sources of child support enforcement include interception of federal and state income tax refunds, unemployment or disability benefits and lottery winnings, and liens on real estate or personal property.

    Inheritance

    An inheritance can be considered personal property and therefore subject to a lien. Attempting to hide an inheritance by putting it into someone else’s name could be regarded as a voidable fraudulent transfer and could also bring contempt of court charges. The court could also consider “imputed income” -- the money that the heir would have received had he not attempted to reduce his income by transferring assets -- as a basis for recalculating the amount of support owed.
    If the deceased person’s will has been filed in probate court in the county of his death, it is a matter of public record.

    Liens

    A lien is a claim against property, allowing it to be taken to satisfy a debt. The court has the authority to place a lien on property, preventing the owner from selling the property or borrowing against it until any child support debts are paid.
    A custodial parent who is owed back child support already has a child support lien. To "perfect" the lien, the custodial parent must file a notice of child support lien containing pertinent information. The notice can be filed where the other parent lives or owns property or where the child support order was issued, and it must be sworn under oath. That lien then becomes a charge against any property that can be sold to pay debts.
    When the property is intangible, like an inheritance, the lien establishes a right of recovery, allowing debtors to receive payment ahead of the heir. Along with tax refunds, lottery winnings, and worker’s compensation settlements, the proceeds from an inheritance could be considered among those sources of funds from which a child support arrearage may be paid.
    Laws on intercepting inheritances for back child support vary by state. Consultation with a family law attorney knowledgeable in the child support laws in your sate of residence is the best way to learn how to seek back child support.

    About the Author

    Kay Bosworth was a reporter covering municipal government and a staff writer and copy editor for newspapers in northern New Jersey. She was also a copywriter for a New York City fashion ad agency, wrote fashion catalog copy for JCPenney, copy edited for the McGraw-Hill Book Company and was a proofreader for Pearson Education. She received a BA in English from Transylvania College.