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Child/Spouse Support and Garnishment Issues

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If the commander does elect to punish the member, any such administrative sanctions are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974. Therefore, the commander cannot even (legally) inform the complaintant that the member has been punished.

In addition to individual service regulations, The Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation, prohibits payment of BAH (at the with dependent rate) to members who refuse to provide adequate support to their dependents. The regulation also contains provisions to recoup any BAH payments already made for periods involving nonsupport.

Making a Complaint. The best way of ensuring you receive spouse/child support from a military member is by obtaining a court-order. This includes "temporary support orders," that a court can issue pending resolution of the divorce. In that case, if the member still fails to pay, you can return to court and obtain a garnishment or involuntary allotment order (see below). This allows you to have the support payments taken directly out of the member's pay, through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), completely by-passing the military chain of command.

Keep in mind, however, that servicemembers have certain legal protections under the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act. For example, under the act, if a servicmember cannot appear in court due to military necessity (such as the member is deployed or assigned overseas), and the commander certifies that leave is not possible, the court must grant a 90-day stay (delay) in any court action. And, upon application to the court, the member can request that such stays be extended (the court doesn't have to grant extensions, however).

If obtaining a court-order is not possible, you should contact the member's commander, executive officer, or first sergeant. Don't waste time with the member's supervisor, section chief, flight chief, etc. These individuals are generally not trained in the military's requirements for support, and -- because they work "side-by-side" with the member, their sympathies will generally lean toward the military member's side.

It's best to make your complaint in writing. While a phone call is okay, commanders, execs, and first sergeants are busy animals, and it can be hard to find them at their desk. Additionally, a written complaint allows them an opportunity to investigate the matter before they need to respond.

If you don't know where the member is stationed, you may have to use one of the military's locator services. If you know the member's unit and base of assignment, simply address the letter to the commander of that unit (you don't need to know the commander's name). For example, if you know the military member is assigned to Boondocks Army Base, in the 5th Transportation Company, address the letter as:

Commanding Officer
5th Transportation Company
Boondocks Army Base, CA 12345-6789

If you don't know the member's unit, but know what base they are stationed at, address the letter this way:

Commanding Officer of
Airman John P. Doe
Boondocks AFB, CA 12345-6789

In the latter case, the letter will be routed to the base personnel folks, who will look up the member's unit address, and forward the letter to the appropriate commander (this may take longer).

Another option is to call the base locator. Each military base operates a locator service, who can release (non-privacy act) information about military members assigned to that base. You can call the base operator and ask to be connected to the base locator service. Give the locator the military member's name, and they should be able to tell you their unit mailing address. Then address your letter to the Commanding Officer of that unit.

Whether you elect to write or call, keep your communication unemotional and to the point. Military commanders, execs, and first sergeants are not divorce court judges, and don't want the history of everything you think your spouse has done wrong during your marriage. Simply state that your spouse is failing to make support payments as required by (agreement, court order, etc., if applicable), military regulations, and you're requesting assistance to obtain the required support. Include all facts related to the support (date of separation, date member stopped providing support, etc).

Garnishment and Involuntary Allotments

There are only two ways to involuntarily take money from a service person's pay for spousal support (alimony) or child support, and both methods require legal action:

Garnishment of Military Pay, (42 U.S.C. 659-662; 5 C.F.R. Part 581): Federal law authorizes legal process (garnishment) against the pay of military members to enforce child support and alimony in accordance with state law. Garnishments may be placed against the pay of active duty, Reserve, Guard and retired military members.

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