Do Parents on Disability Pay Child Support?

Happy single father in a wheelchair and his small son using laptop at home concept.

Child support payments are critical to help ensure a child’s basic needs are met. In Pennsylvania, child support is calculated using the “income shares” model which considers the monthly net income of each parent in calculating the amount that a non-custodial parent will be required to pay. In the event a non-custodial parent suffers a disability due to a personal injury, workplace accident, or occupational disease, income can decrease substantially — this can impact the ability to meet monthly child support obligations.

Regardless of whether a parent has become injured, ill, or disabled, they cannot stop making court-ordered child support payments on their own volition. But they may have the option of requesting a modification to make payments more manageable. Additionally, if the parent starts receiving Social Security Disability payments because of their condition, the standard child support guidelines are replaced with a supplemental process that takes these benefits into account.

Who Pays and Receives Child Support in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, both parents have a legal duty to financially support their children until they reach the age of majority. Child support payments are made from one parent to another in cases where the parents do not live together. It covers the general expenses associated with raising a child, including costs for food, clothing, and shelter. These payments are made by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. In other words, the parent who spends less time with the children makes child support payments to the parent who spends more time with them.

While Pennsylvania law sets forth guidelines for calculating child support, there are various reasons a court may deviate from them. Every case has different circumstances and a unique set of facts — such as those involving disability and child support. It’s important to work with a skilled child support attorney who can help ensure the guidelines are correctly applied and the monthly payments are accurate.

How Does Social Security Disability Impact Child Support Payments?

Social Security Disability insurance (SSD) is a program that is administered by the federal government and issues benefits to individuals who qualify under the applicable guidelines. However, an individual must be “insured” in order to receive SSD benefits for a disability. Not to be confused with Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is based on income, SSD is based on work history. An individual must have worked long enough, paid Social Security taxes on their earnings, and suffered a qualifying disability to be eligible for benefits. Unlike SSI benefits, SSD is counted as income when it comes to child support obligations.

Receiving SSD benefits does not reduce a child support order. But there are still some ways these benefits could change an existing order. For instance, an individual receiving SSD likely has less income than when they were working — if their income has been reduced due to no fault of their own, they may be able to petition for a downward modification to the current support order. In addition, derivative benefits a child may be awarded due to the non-custodial parent’s qualifying disability must also be taken into account.

Can Child Support Be Taken from Disability Payments?

If you have a child support obligation and are out of work due to a disability, you might be wondering, “can child support be taken from disability payments?” Importantly, a child support obligation does not cease with a disability. In the event a parent becomes delinquent in their payments, they will still be held accountable for the amount owed. While SSD benefits are exempt from being garnished by creditors, they can still be garnished to satisfy current child support obligations — and any child support arrears.

Derivative Social Security Disability Payments

When a parent is a recipient of SSD benefits, their dependents may be entitled to receive a derivative benefit. Specifically, a child may receive a monthly derivative benefit up to 50% of that which the parent receives. Typically, the maximum family limit is 150% of the SSD benefits awarded to the individual with a qualifying disability.

A child may qualify for derivative Social Security Disability payments if they meet the following criteria:

  • They are the biological child, adopted child, or stepchild of an individual receiving SSD benefits
  • They have a valid birth certificate and Social Security number
  • They are not married
  • They are under 18 or still in high school

The regulations surrounding derivative benefits concerning disability and child support can be confusing. The amount of SSD benefits received by the child are added to the income of the parent who is the actual recipient of the check. If the derivative benefit is paid to the parent who must pay child support, it is not deducted from their monthly obligation. However, if the child’s benefits are being paid to the custodial parent, the amount of the Social Security derivative benefits is deducted from the support obligation of the parent from whom they derive.

Contact a Knowledgeable Pennsylvania Child Support Attorney

Disability and child support can be a complex issue and it’s crucial to have a skillful attorney by your side to protect your rights. At Berman & Associates, our experienced Pennsylvania family law attorneys are committed to assisting clients with a wide variety of family law matters, including those involving child support. We welcome you to contact us today to schedule a consultation at our Media office.

Categories: Child Support