Can Child Support Be Taken From a Social Security Check?

By Beverly Bird

Updated October 10, 2018

Portrait of mother with two daughters

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images

Not many sources of income are immune to garnishment if you’re delinquent with your child support obligation. Your earnings are typically subject to income withholding even if you haven’t fallen behind. If your income derives from some form of Social Security, child support can be taken from it – with one exception.

Income Withholding Orders

Under federal law, all noncustodial parents who pay child support are subject to income withholding orders unless the court expressly orders otherwise. Pursuant to a court order, your employer is obligated to withhold support from your paychecks and send it to your state’s child support unit, which then forwards the money to your child’s other parent. You can get around this if you receive special permission from the judge, but both parents must be in agreement that an income withholding order, or IWO, should not be implemented. If you’re receiving Social Security retirement benefits or Social Security Disability, federal law allows IWOs to be applied to these benefits to meet your ongoing support obligation.

Social Security Garnishment

Like paychecks, Social Security retirement benefits are subject to garnishment when parents fall behind with support payments and arrears begin adding up. Garnishment limits are the same as they would be for income from any other source. If you’re supporting other children who are not covered by this support order, 50 percent of your benefits may be diverted to pay off the arrears. If you don’t have other children, this increases to 60 percent, and if you’re 12 weeks or more behind, an additional 5 percent is tacked on. Therefore, 55 to 65 percent of your benefits can be sent to your state’s child support unit to catch up your past due payments. These percentages are required under federal law. If your state provides for smaller garnishment percentages, the lower amounts apply.

Social Security Disability and Child Support

Like Social Security retirement benefits, Social Security Disability payments are based on your work record and what you paid into Social Security while you were working. These benefits can be paid out earlier than retirement age if you become disabled. The law treats these payments as income, so they can also be garnished for support arrears. If your child receives SSD dependent benefits due to your disability, however, this counts toward your regular child support obligation. For example, if she’s receiving $100 a month in benefits and your child support obligation is $400 a month, your income withholding order for your regular support payments would be $300.

SSI and Child Support

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is subject to neither income withholding for current support nor garnishment for past due support. It’s not something you contributed to through tax payments over the years so the federal government doesn’t consider it to be income. It’s need-based, a form of welfare paid to low-income individuals who are disabled, blind or elderly. As such, it can’t be directed to a child support obligation and, in fact, you’re exempt from paying child support in some states if SSI is your only income.