When a divorce involves children, the court typically has to address the issue of child support. In a child support arrangement, the parent who has custody receives a regular payment from the noncustodial parent. The amount of the payment depends on many different factors, which can vary according to state law. In New Jersey, the earnings of both parents are included in the calculation for child support; however, "means-tested" public benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income, are not included.
Social Security Programs
The Social Security Administration runs two benefit programs for the disabled: Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. For the former, a beneficiary must be at least 18 years of age. For SSI, there is no minimum age; a child may receive monthly SSI payments for a disability as long as the household meets the asset and income guidelines. SSI is a "means-tested" program designed to assist low-income families. The unadjusted monthly benefit rate reached $721 as of 2014.
New Jersey Support Guidelines
In New Jersey, when it comes to calculating child support amounts, state law provides for adjustments to the parents' incomes. For example, if a parent has other legal dependents outside the family involved in the divorce, the law takes this into consideration. Government benefits paid to, or on behalf of, children also may give rise to an adjustment in the amount of income attributed to a parent.
SSI Benefits and Child Support
Social Security pays SSI benefits for a child to the parent as the child's custodian; it is not counted as income to the parent in a New Jersey child support calculation. This places SSI alongside other means-tested benefits such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, rent subsidies and refugee assistance. If a child draws Social Security benefits on the work record of another relative, however, New Jersey will count them. This would be the case if a divorced father draws Social Security retirement, for example, and the child is eligible for a "family benefit" of his own based on the father's work record. Such a benefit would be counted as income for the parent who receives it on behalf of the child.
SSI Adjustments for Child Support
In determining eligibility for SSI, the Social Security Administration takes child support payments into account. Social Security Disability benefits are never adjusted for household income or assets. The agency excludes one-third of the child support received, which is considered "unearned income" to the household, but it adjusts the SSI benefit for the balance. Thus, if a household collects $721 a month in SSI, but then is awarded $600 a month in child support, Social Security will reduce the SSI benefit to $321 a month because two-thirds of the child support is deducted from SSI.