Laws Regarding Child Support & Public Assistance in New York State

By Beverly Bird

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If you divorce in New York and you're receiving public assistance – or apply for it after your divorce – you face something of an either-or situation. The state won't allow you to collect both, at least not entirely. Your spouse's support money goes to the government if you collect public assistance, although you may receive a small amount of the money.

New York State Child Support

New York calculates child support according to the percentage of income model. Your spouse must pay you a certain percentage of his salary or earnings, based on the number of children you have. If you have one child, it's 17 percent. If you have three children, it's 29 percent, and this graduates to 35 percent if you have five children or more. For example, if your spouse earns $50,000 a year and you have three children, he would pay $14,500 per year in child support, and this may be more than you're collecting in public assistance on their behalf.

Signing Over Your Rights

If you're on public assistance when the court issues your divorce decree, or you apply for benefits after your divorce is final, you must sign over your right to collect child support. If you live in the New York City area, you would typically relinquish your support to the Human Resources Administration. Otherwise, you'd give it to the state's Department of Social Services. New York gives you the option of collecting support from your spouse through DSS or, with your written consent, he can pay you directly. If you choose to collect through DSS, your spouse must make his payments to the government unit and DSS will, in turn, issue you a check. If you're on public assistance, however, DSS will keep the majority of your child support and issue payment to you for the balance. If you decide you want to collect directly from your spouse, DSS is still entitled to its money -- you'll have to pay the government directly after collecting support, to compensate for the benefits your family has received.

What You Receive

If you live in New York City, the Human Resources Administration will keep all but $50 of your child support each month. You'll receive the $50 in addition to the public assistance you receive. If you live elsewhere in the state, DSS rules are a bit more generous. You may be able to keep as much as $200 per month of your child support, depending on the number of children you have, and the state will retain the balance to offset the financial assistance you're receiving.

Your Options

If your child support is more than you're receiving in public assistance, you have the right to terminate government assistance and simply accept the child support. In fact, if the child support terms of your divorce decree are substantial enough, the HRA or DSS may take the decision out of your hands and end or deny your benefits. You can cancel the assistance you receive for your children and keep benefits for yourself -- your child support does not affect what you receive for your own needs. It only interacts with what the state gives you for your children. There's a catch, though. If you take one of your children off public assistance, you must take them all off, assuming they're all related by blood. If you cancel their benefits, you will receive all your child support.