How Does a Custodial Parent on Social Security Disability Affect Child Support?

By Joe Stone

Updated November 28, 2018

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A custodial parent receiving Social Security benefits for a disability can affect child support in several ways. The primary issue arising in this situation is whether the benefits are included as part of the custodial parent’s income for purposes of calculating child support payments from the non-custodial parent. The situation will also be affected by the child receiving benefits due to the parent’s disability. The precise affect on child support varies from state to state and the type of benefits received by the disabled parent.

State Child Support Guidelines

Each state has its own set of guidelines or formulas that identify several factors to be used in calculating child support. The primary factors are the parent’s income and number of children. Child support guidelines generally take one of two approaches: use the income of the non-custodial parent paying support and the number of children, or use the income of both parents and number of children. Courts tend to insert these numbers into a formula to determine support, although a judge may depart from the guidelines if there are special circumstances.

Custodial Parent Receiving SSDI

If the disabled parent is receiving SSDI—Social Security Disability Income—all states that include the custodial parent’s income for purposes of determining child support will include the SSDI benefit as part of the disabled parent’s income. This is consistent with federal Social Security law that bases the SSDI benefit upon the disabled parent's earned income from working.

Custodial Parent Receiving SSI

If the disabled parent is receiving SSI—Supplemental Security Income—this benefit will not be included as part of the disabled parent's regardless of the state child support formula. Unlike SSDI, the custodial parent's basis for receiving SSI is due to low-income and resources as well as a disability that prevents working. The SSI benefits are not based on work history, but are funded by general tax revenues to the federal government and are intended to pay for the custodial parent's daily living expenses, such as food and shelter.

Auxiliary Benefits

In some situations, a minor child can receive SSDI benefits based upon the work history of the custodial parent receiving SSDI. These auxiliary benefits will affect child support calculations in all states, but in various ways. Some states will make a straight deduction from the non-custodial parent's support obligation in an amount equal to the SSDI received by the child. Other states will subtract the SSDI benefit equally from both parent's income as part of the support formula.

Judicial Variations

A factor in any child support case will be the judge's willingness to deviate from the state's child support guidelines when special circumstances are present. In situations involving disability benefits, the custodial parent may be receiving SSDI and SSI because the SSDI payments alone are below the SSI level. The judge may exclude the SSDI income from the custodial parent's income in this case. Also, depending upon the nature and severity of the custodial parent's disability, the court may exclude the SSDI income because it falls far short of what is required by the custodial parent for her own day-to-day needs.