Social Security Benefits
Family law courts generally apply state law, since the individual states regulate matters as divorce, child support and spousal support. However, federal law can also play an important role, as is the case with Federal Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance benefits, commonly called Social Security. The Social Security system provides retirement, disability and death benefits to qualifying workers and their family members. These benefits generally cannot be garnished or attached by creditors under federal law.
California Child Support
In California, each parent has the legal obligation to support his children financially. The parent with whom the children live is assumed to be making a fair contribution; the other parent is ordered by the divorce court to pay monthly child support in an amount based on his income and calculated under the state guidelines. Questions arise as to the role of a noncustodial parent's Social Security income in determining child support.
Assessing California Child Support
Payments a parent receives from Social Security are separate property and cannot be divided between the spouses as marital property upon divorce. However, these amounts are included in spouse's income to determine child support. Both retirement and disability benefits are included, and a larger income amount generally increases the amount of a noncustodial parent's child support obligation. The periodic Social Security payments may be attached for child support, although they cannot be attached by other creditors.
Credits Against Child Support
In some cases, the Social Security Administration makes payments to a retired or disabled workers' minor children under the Social Security or Railroad Retirement Acts. Any sums paid to the minor children or to the custodial parent on their behalf serve as credits against the noncustodial parent's child support obligation. For example, if a child support obligation is $3,000 a month but the children already receive $1,800 from social security, the parent's obligation is reduced to $1,200 a month. This is not true, however, if the benefits to the children are death benefits. The estate of the deceased parent still owes the full amount of child support for the children.