Family Law clients have asked me: “Will my social security benefits be included when calculating how much child support I owe?”

For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments, the answer is almost always yes.

Whenever a court determines child support it looks for the “Gross Income” of each parent.  Gross income is the actual before tax revenue from almost all sources including SSDI income.  So, if you are receiving SSDI payments the Court will factor that as gross income for child support purposes.[1]

However, you will also receive a credit for any SSDI payments made to the custodial parent as payee for the child.  Here is how the different payments are credited:

Custodial Parent: If you are the custodial parent, the SSDI income you receive as the payee for the child will be credited towards your part of the child support obligation.

Non-custodial Parent: If you are the noncustodial parent, the payments made for the benefit of the child from your SSDI will be included in your gross income, but you will receive a credit towards your weekly child support obligation in the amount of the SSDI payments to the child.  Any excess amount will be applied to any existing arrearage.  If there is no arrearage, the payments are considered a gratuity to the child.

Lump Sum Payments: Most SSDI applications take a long time to process and the government will give the person a lump sum payment when the application is finally approved in order to account for the payments that should have come while the payment was being processed.  Children of the disabled person are also sent a lump sum payment.  If there is an arrearage, the lump sum payment will be applied to that arrearage.  However, if the payment exceeds the arrearage or if there is no arrearage, the payment is treated as a gratuity or a gift to the children.  It will not be paid back to the noncustodial parent, and it will not be applied to future payments.

It is also important to note that payments are only credited to an arrearage if they are made to the custodial parent as the payee.  That means if they are made directly to a child who has turned 18 the noncustodial parent will not receive a credit towards his or her arrerage.

Finally, be aware that a child support order will not change unless it is approved by the court.  So, if you are a parent and your child is receiving SSDI payments you have to file a motion for the court to apply the SSDI payments to your obligation before they will be counted as a credit.

[1] There is an exception for prior born children receiving survivor benefits.  If you are a parent who has a child with a person who has died and the child receives survivor benefits, those benefits are not included as gross income.