Family Law

Child Support, Social Security and Workers' Compensation

If you have a child and are going through a divorce, you might be wondering how much child support you or the other parent will have to pay. The court takes into account many factors in determining child support. Starting points are the needs of the child and the parents' abilities to pay.

Your income is central in a court's decision on your ability to pay child support. What is income? Some sources are obvious, such as your wages or salary. You may also receive benefit income from sources such as workers' compensation and Social Security programs. Find out how these alternate income streams can affect the child support you pay.

Workers' Compensation Benefits

If you've been injured on the job, you may be receiving workers' compensation benefits. "Workers' comp" is money received by an employee for an injury that arose out of and in the course of employment. One purpose of benefits is to replace income lost due to your injury.

State laws vary, but generally courts will treat your workers' comp benefits as income for child support purposes. Since the benefits help replace lost income, you must use it to support your child just as you would with your earnings.

Social Security Benefits

U.S. Social Security is a social welfare program that helps older and disabled people. It's usually paid for by Social Security taxes. There are various types of Social Security benefits, and most are included in your income for child support purposes.

Social Security Retirement Insurance Benefits

Just about everyone is familiar with Social Security retirement benefits. You must reach a certain age and have paid a certain amount into the Social Security program to start receiving these benefits.

Retirement benefits are treated as income by courts for child support purposes. If your retirement benefits start after the initial child support decision, the court may modify your support amount based on such changes.

Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits

Another benefit type is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). You may qualify for this benefit type if you can't work due to a disability. Your child may also be eligible for additional SSDI benefits.

SSDI benefits are considered income by courts for child support purposes. These benefits are given as a substitute for lost income. The amount of SSDI benefits you receive will affect your child support obligation.

An Exception: Supplemental Security Income Benefits

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are available to adults and children who are disabled and have limited income. SSI benefits are funded by general tax revenues and not by Social Security taxes.

SSI benefits aren't considered income for child support purposes in most states. Why? Benefits are paid based on need and not as a substitute for lost income.

Child Support Credits Based on Benefits

A child may receive Social Security benefits based on a parent's retirement or disability. Most states allow a credit to the parent's child support obligation for the amount of the benefits. The Social Security benefits to the child act as a substitute for part or the entire child support award.

Garnishment and Your Benefits

One child support collection method is garnishment. Your creditors, including the parent receiving child support, can have money taken directly from your income sources to pay the amount you owe to them.

Workers' compensation benefits can be garnished to pay for child support. A parent can ask the court to order the state agency or organization that pays the workers' comp benefits to withhold a certain amount to pay the child support owed.

When it comes to Social Security benefits, retirement and SSDI benefits can be garnished to pay for child support since they're considered part of a parent's income. SSI benefits can't be garnished since they're not considered part of a parent's income.

Calculating the correct and fair child support amount can be a complex question, going beyond all the numbers. Turning to your lawyer for help is a good first move.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can child support be reduced when workers' comp benefits are less than a parent's normal wages?
  • Can child support be changed when workers' comp benefits are paid for a short-term injury?
  • If I started receiving SSI benefits, can the court modify my child support payments by increasing them in the amount of the benefits?
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