Child support is usually paid by withholding income from a paying parent’s paycheck. However, many parents who receive Social Security benefits do not also receive paychecks from which income can be withheld. Unpaid child support cannot be taken from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) but can be taken from other types of benefits administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Under federal law, SSI benefits cannot be garnished to pay child support. SSI is a very limited benefit given only to low-income blind, elderly or disabled individuals. It is considered to be a welfare benefit rather than an earned benefit like other SSA benefits. Since SSI is intended to pay for basic needs like clothing, housing and food, the federal government does not allow these benefits to be involuntarily taken to pay child support.
Other SSA benefits, such as Social Security Disability, can be garnished. These are earned benefits to which an individual contributes over his lifetime; therefore, they are not considered to be welfare benefits like SSI. However, only current benefits – not future benefits – can be taken. Therefore, the custodial parent cannot place a lien against future SSA benefits.
Collecting from SSA
If your ex-spouse is receiving non-SSI benefits but is not properly paying child support, you may pursue collection by sending the income withholding order issued by the judge to your local Social Security office. The office will enter data about your case into the SSA garnishment database, and child support payments will be withheld from benefit payments. If no current benefits payments are being made, the income withholding order remains on file to be used if payments begin again.
Other Collection Options
If you cannot collect sufficient payments from your ex-spouse’s social security benefits, you may have other options available. Your state’s child support enforcement office may be able to help you collect past due child support by withholding the amount from state or federal tax returns or benefit payments. If your spouse owns any real estate or vehicles, a court can place a lien against them for the amount of the past due support. Your ex-spouse could even be put in jail or have his driver’s license, professional licenses and passport seized for failure to pay.