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Stimulus checks and child support: Who may get an extra $500 per kid from this IRS loophole

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Stimulus checks for dependents were rife with issues, with some parents receiving no payment while other parents each got $500 for the same child.


Angela Lang/CNET

You’ve checked to see if you’re eligible for a stimulus check for yourself and looked into how much your child dependents could add to the bottom line, but you’re still not sure how the slightly different rules apply to parents who pay or receive child support. If you’re worried about winding up with less than the $1,200 you expect, as happened to many parents with the first stimulus check, we can help explain how to find out. 

But there are situations, too, where parents who are separated or divorced and share joint custody can each get an extra $500 per child as part of their check. It has everything to do with the way you filed your taxes (again, keep reading for an explanation). One other thing you should know is that overdue child support is one of the few times the government will garnish your stimulus check.

That may or may not change with a possible second stimulus payment, if one is eventually approved as part of a new stimulus bill. (Here’s the latest turmoil in negotiations now.) Some lawmakers support garnishing child support arrears, others don’t, and it won’t be set in stone until a new law is passed. 

Until then, here’s everything you should know about stimulus checks and child support, like how much money you could get for your child dependent on either side of that financial equation. If you need a specific monetary estimate, try our stimulus calculator, and here’s when we think a new check could come. This story updates often.

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States were allowed to take some or all of a person’s stimulus check payment to cover past-due child support bills.


Sarah Tew/CNET

States have deducted child support from stimulus checks

Although the government prevented debts like overdue student loans and back taxes from being taken from the first round of stimulus checks, one type of debt not covered by those protections was overdue child support, also known as “arrears” or “arrearage.” If you owe more than $150 in arrears, your state may reserve the right to garnish some or all of your first stimulus check, based on how much you owe. 

And if you’re owed child support, you may receive money garnished from your child’s other parent, although how long it takes to get to you depends on a lot of factors (the money has to process through the state, which will then issue it to you).

Read more: Stimulus check formula revealed: This is how the IRS decides your total

Rules for any future checks could change

Depending on which language is incorporated into the next stimulus bill — if one is passed at all — past-due child support may or may not be garnished again. The Heroes Act, a proposal that was passed in the House of Representatives but is not law, specifically prohibited reducing or offsetting the amount of stimulus checks to pay a child support debt. The Senate’s HEALS Act, which is also not law, allowed it. It’s unclear where the current stimulus bill under negotiation in Washington stands on the matter.

Read moreYou don’t have to be a US citizen living in America to get a stimulus check

If child support was mistakenly garnished, there’s a way to get it back

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If your nonparent spouse had money deducted from their stimulus check for child support that you owe, the IRS will issue another check to make up the difference.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Although states had the right to garnish CARES Act stimulus check money from parents who owed back child support, the IRS, which issued the checks, says it didn’t mean to allow states to also deduct from a current (nonparent) spouse’s stimulus check as well.

If you are now married to someone who is not the child’s parent, and past-due child support was deducted from funds intended for your current spouse, the IRS directed taxpayers in August to fill out a Form 8379 (PDF) in order to receive a replacement check. However, since then, the agency says it is sifting through to find such errors and will be issuing replacement checks, although it did not provide a timeline for doing so. It appears the IRS is ironing out this particular wrinkle, so hopefully it won’t be a problem next time.

Read moreInside Joe Biden’s plan for stimulus relief

Yes, joint custody means you may each get a $500 check per child

Most of the time — but not always — the noncustodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent, who likely claims the child on their taxes. Sometimes, however, child support is owed even when parents share custody (when one parent earns significantly more than the other, for example). In many of those cases — but, again, not all — parents alternate claiming the child on their taxes (one in odd years, the other in even years, for example).

In situations like these, it’s possible that the $500 stimulus payments for dependents could be sent to the parent who’s owed back child support while the one who owes receives nothing. If that happens, the parent who did not receive the money can claim it on their 2020 tax return and receive it along with any refund due in 2021, according to Janet Holtzblatt, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “Double dipping,” in this instance, isn’t a glitchboth parents technically qualify for the $500 payment (for a total of $1,000 per child).

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If you need help figuring out dependent payments, try contacting the IRS directly.


Angela Lang/CNET

Still unsure what to do? Here’s how to find more help

Like anything having to do with taxes, this stuff can get confusing pretty quickly. If you need help and don’t have an accountant on retainer to assist you, you can try looking for more information on the IRS website or giving the IRS a call. At the bottom of the IRS’ letter accompanying paper checks is a number you can call for more information: 800-919-9835. The IRS help number is 800-829-1040.

Stay up to date on the latest on stimulus bill negotiations here, find out how much you might qualify for with our payment calculator here and see when you might get a second stimulus check with our stimulus timeline here.

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