Stimulus checks for dependents were rife with issues, with some parents not receiving any payment and other parents both getting $500 for the same child.

Angela Lang/CNET

While the clock is ticking on a second stimulus check, some people are still trying to wrap their minds around the first payment of up to $1,200 per person and $500 more per “child” dependent. Navigating the eligibility rules regarding dependents is a winding road, and for parents in situations where child support is involved, a wrong turn could cost you. 

It isn’t just enough to qualify for the first or second payment, if a new federal bill is approved. There are specific rules that apply to child support. Those apply to the parents who owe it, and also the ones who receive the payment.

For example, some parents who owed a debt for unpaid child support wound up not only having their own stimulus checks garnished, but some or all of their current spouse’s $1,200 was taken as well. On the other end of the spectrum, some parents who are separated or divorced but maintain joint custody have actually gotten two $500 checks per child, one for each parent. Then there’s the issue of figuring out if the wrong parent got the dependent check.

We’ll tell you what you need to know about how the first round of checks for child dependents was processed and what that might mean for any future stimulus check, whenever that payment could arrive. (Here’s who did not count as a dependent for the first check, and how stimulus totals are calculated.)


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


Stimulus checks can be garnished for child support

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 you depends on a lot of factors (the money has to process through the state, which will then issue it to you).

The next round of stimulus checks may or may not be garnished

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.

How to recoup money taken from your spouse’s check


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.

CNET Staff

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.

What if the $500 went to the parent who’s owed child support?

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 glitch — both parents technically qualify for the $500 payment (for a total of $1,000 per child).


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

Angela Lang/CNET

Here’s where to go if you need help figuring this out

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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