Pay and pension checks of D.C. government workers and retirees would be subject to garnishment for alimony and child support under new regulations proposed by the federal government.
The tentative new rules, published in the Oct. 19 Federal Register, spell out steps federal and military departments must take to process, and honor, court orders for alimony and/or child support. For the first time the District Government is included in the garnishment package.
Legislation permitting the government to deduct alimony and child support payments from federal or military checks -- including most forms of Social Security -- does not apply to other debts owed creditors, even if backed by court order for payment.
Until a few years ago pay and pension checks of federal and military personnel were immune from garnishment for any reason, although employes were sometimes disciplined for failure to pay just debts. In late 1975 Congress enacted legislation requiring agencies to allow themselves -- as the employer -- to be sued for alimony or child support claims approved by courts against employes or former employes drawing pensions.
Some agencies have done a good job of complying with the garnishment law. Defense, the U.S. Postal Service and the Office of Personnel Management have processed thousands of garnishment orders against present and former employes. But some federal agencies have been slow to act, claiming thay did not know the ground rules. The new guidelines not only spell out in detail the actions that agencies must take, but also require them to designate an official -- either the agency head or a top legal official -- to receive the garnishment requests.
The original legislation failed to mention the U.S. Postal Service or D.C. Government. In a subsequent case, however, for alimony-child support a judge ruled that the USPS had to make the deductions from the check of an employe. Since then it has processed hundreds of garnishment orders against workers and retirees. But the D.C. Government has been a different case.
In negotiations with the OPM and its predecessor agency, the Civil Service Commission, D.C. officials argued they did not have the manpower to argue cases -- as the "garnishee" -- outside of the metropolitan Washington area. They also cited provisions of the D.C. Home Rule Act which they felt exempted them as a governmental entity from provisions covering federal agencies. In one instance the D.C. Government refused to honor a court order from Florida to deduct alimony and child support payments from an employe. Under the new regulations by OPM, the District will have to honor court orders just as any other federal agency.
The law says the government must withhold specified amounts from checks of employes or retirees who a court says have refused to pay alimony or child support. Under the law, garnishment may also be applied to Social Security payments (except for welfare-type benefits) and Workman's Compensation.
The regulations, now out to agencies for a 60-day comment period, also permit agencies to take garnishment actions on maximum amounts of up to 65 percent of the employe's net income. Net income excludes payments for retirement, federal, state and local taxes. Once the employe has satisfied back payments for alimony or child support, the amount taken from his or her check would decrease.
Although the law applies to most federal checks, it would not cover Medicare payments to doctors who might be behind in alimony or child support, or to income tax refunds.
Persons wishing to bring garnishment actions should send a copy of the court order to the agency or military service of their ex-spouse by registered mail. It should include the name, serial or social security number of the ex-spouse, addresses and other information that would help the agency identify him or her.