Can a Child Receive Social Security Disability and Child Support?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

Can a Child Receive Social Security Disability and Child Support?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

Some disabled children receive benefits from the Social Security Administration as well as child support from their parents' divorce. However, a valid child support order from a divorce or legal separation can impact the amount of disability benefits a child is eligible for. Here's what to know about what the administration considers as income when calculating this financial assistance.

Woman, little girl, and little boy in a wheelchair working together at a table

What is SSDI or SSI?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers Social Security disability income (SSDI), which provides monetary benefits to disabled individuals and families that have a working history. For example, the individual must have held a paying job for five out of the last ten years. The SSA does not take into account any assets or income when awarding SSDI benefits.

The SSA also administers Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for low-income or disabled individuals, including children. To be eligible for SSI, the individual must have few assets, including a current income.

How are child support payments impacted?

Child support is the amount needed to satisfy the child's needs, such as housing and food. For purposes of Social Security benefits, the agency classifies support as unearned income for the child. Further, a “child" is defined as an unmarried individual under the age of 18, or under the age of 22 if attending school. Adult children are any disabled dependents not meeting the definition of "child."

When calculating available SSI benefits, the administration considers any income received by the child. The SSA reduces SSI benefits by two-thirds of the amount of child support received. In other words, when determining the child's SSI benefits, the SSA excludes one-third of monthly child support payments from their income. The remaining two-thirds of support counts as income and reduces how much the child can be given from the SSA.

Here's an example. If a custodial parent receives $600 per month in child support for a disabled child who also receives SSI benefits, the SSA will exclude $198, or one-third, from the support payments. The agency subtracts the remaining two-thirds, or $402, from SSI benefits as income.

If you have a disabled adult child that received life-long child support payments, the calculation differs. In this instance, the SSA considers the total amount of child support payments as income, not two-thirds.

If a child, including an adult child, receives more than the SSA's income guidelines in support, then that child may lose any benefits due to them. For example, if the SSA's income guidelines, or federal benefit rate, is $771 per month, and the child receives more than $771 per month in child support, then that child may lose his or her eligibility for SSI benefits. In these situations, you may want to consult with a skilled family or estate planning lawyer for additional options.

What if a parent receives SSDI or SSI?

If a non-custodial parent receives SSDI, then the court takes the amount of disability benefits into consideration when determining how much child support they need to provide. SSA considers SSDI as income for the non-custodial parent. Thus, these disability benefits are taken into account when determining the non-custodial parent's child support obligation. State divorce laws govern this calculation.

If a non-custodial parent or a custodial parent currently receives SSI, then the court does not take into account the amount of disability benefits when calculating child support. Unlike SSDI, SSI is not treated as income.

What are derivative benefits?

A child might receive a derivative benefit because of a parent's disability. This provides additional income for living expenses.

A derivative benefit counts as income. If the non-custodial parent receives disability benefits and the child receives a derivative benefit as a result, then the SSA subtracts the amount of the derivative benefit from any child support owed. The remaining amount is then owed as child support.

When going through a divorce, child support calculations can be complicated. Add in disability benefits and the complexity increases. When determining child support for individuals receiving federal disability payments, it's helpful to understand how federal and state law work together. Visit your local Social Security Administration branch or your court for further information.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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