Do I have to pay child support if I am on disability?


Whether it’s due to disability, lost employment, or simply stubbornness, sometimes a parent cannot or will not pay child support. Recently on our disability forum a user asked, “If I am currently on disability will I have to pay child support?”

If a parent is on disability whether or not they will be required to pay child support will depend on whether they are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Let’s take a closer look at each benefit.

What is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

Social Security Disability Insurance is paid to disabled workers who have a severe disabling condition and are no longer able to perform substantial and gainful work. Claimants will only qualify for SSDI benefits if their condition is expected to last for 12 continuous months and is severe.

Unlike SSI benefits, SSDI recipients are only paid SSDI benefits if they are insured, which means they have worked and paid into the SSA system, and they have earned sufficient work credits.

What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Supplemental Security Income is benefits paid to the blind, disabled, or aged who are no longer able to perform substantial gainful activity. SSI claimants must also have very limited income and resources. SSI recipients do not, however, have to work or have a work history and do not need work credits to qualify for SSI.

Disability and Child Support obligations

According to current federal laws, SSDI benefits can be seized to pay current and past child support obligations. In fact, if you have past due child support obligations the federal government can garnish your SSDI check for repayment.

SSI payments cannot be seized for child support. They also cannot be garnished for any type of debt repayment obligations (i.e. child support in arrears). Debtors, including the federal government, also do not have the legal right to seize any SSI funds which have accumulated in a savings account or have been paid in a lump sum payment.

The legal explanation for this protection is that SSI is providing only the minimum amount of money for food, shelter, and other necessities and is therefore treated like other public benefits.

Modifying Child Support Order

Child support orders can be modified if a paying parent has had a substantial change in their income. For instance, if you recently became disabled and no longer have the ability to work you will need to ask the court for a child support modification order.

Modification orders are issued for a variety of reasons: cost of living adjustments, disabilities, child support law changes, lost jobs, or the changing needs of the child.

It is important to request the modification before child support back payments accumulate. Any child support payments which are not made will be in arrears and cannot be discharged through bankruptcy or eliminated due to disability.

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