Article Provided by Rojas Law Firm

Child support is almost invariably based on the income of the noncustodial parent, and in the majority of states, the custodial parent’s income is a factor as well. When a noncustodial parent’s income is Social Security Disability Insurance, his child may be entitled to receive derivative benefits. Does the custodial parent receive this money in addition to child support? Not necessarily, but some complicated rules apply.

Understanding SSDI Benefits 

You may be entitled to SSDI benefits if you’re disabled and you worked five or more of the last 10 years. SSDI is not a needs-based program, so eligibility is not reserved for those with negligible incomes or no incomes at all. It often pays additional derivative benefits to a disabled parent’s minor children.

The disabled parent does not have to have custody of the children for the children to receive these benefits. The Social Security Administration pays a child’s derivative benefits directly to the custodial parent when parents are divorced – the money is not forwarded to the noncustodial parent with the understanding that he will dutifully turn it over.

Calculating Child Support Based on SSDI Income 

Child support calculations are based on a noncustodial parent’s SSDI income, as well as any other income sources he may have. If all this totals $45,000, the court may order him to pay $700 a month in support for one child. If the child is already receiving $6,000 a year – or $500 a month – in derivative benefits, the court should adjust for this. Otherwise, the noncustodial parent would receive $1,250 a month toward care of her child — far in excess of most states’ child support guidelines.

The noncustodial parent’s child support order is therefore adjusted to allow for the $500 the child is already receiving in benefits. He would pay the difference between his child support obligation and the child’s benefits: $200 a month, or $700 less $500.

Rules Can Vary By State 

Of course, the simplest explanation for something is rarely universal, and that’s the case with SSDI income, derivative benefits and child support. The adjustment is left to the discretion of the judge in some states, and other state courts allow judges to override this rule under certain circumstances, such as if a special needs child requires additional financial support. New Jersey follows the above approach, including in his income the benefits the noncustodial parent receives, then subtracting any derivative benefits the child receives.

This assumes that you’re collecting disability at the time your support order is calculated. What happens if your order is calculated before you become disabled, and you’re then unable to work so you can’t meet your child support obligation? Arrears will accrue until the court addresses the problem – each support payment you’re unable to make adds to the last until you might ultimately owe a staggering sum. New Jersey courts have ruled that if your child eventually receives retroactive derivative benefits dating back to the time of your disability, the amount she receives can be credited against your total arrears.

If you’ve become disabled since your child support order was entered, or if you’re facing divorce and SSDI is a component of your income, speak with a family law attorney. Don’t attempt to navigate this complex area of child support law on your own.