Social Security Disability Benefits and Child Support Obligations

When a parent who is obligated to pay child support becomes disabled, the parent is still obligated to pay the amount ordered by the court, but the method of payment may change. Instead of the money being paid from the non-custodial parent’s income, the custodial parent may receive child support payments from the non-custodial parent’s social security disability income.

Non-Custodial Parent who is Entitled to SSDI

A non-custodial parent who becomes disabled may qualify to receive Social Security disability benefits if certain requirements are met. The requirements include, but are not limited to, the person must have worked in jobs covered by Social Security and the person must have a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability. In general, people can receive disability payments if they are unable to work for a year or more because of the disability. If the disabled person receives Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the disabled person’s spouse and children are eligible to receive partial dependent benefits, called auxiliary benefits. Auxiliary benefits, or social security dependent disability benefits, are earned by the non-custodial parent, made on behalf of such parent, and paid at least in part with contributions form the non-custodial parent’s own earnings. Payment of social security dependent disability benefits satisfies the noncustodial parent’s child support obligation, as long as the amount of the disability benefit is equal to the amount ordered by the court.

What Happens if the Social Security Dependent Benefit Exceeds the Amount Ordered by the Court?

The court has found that in Illinois an amount paid in excess of a current child support obligation is considered a gratuity. This means that the overpayment is considered a gift to the child. In the case of Childerson v. Hess, the court held that payments to the minor child from the non-custodial parent’s social security could be credited toward the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation, however, the non-custodial parent was entitled to credit only up to the amount of obligation, and excess was considered a gift to the child. 555 N.E.2d 1070, 1073 (144 Ill App. 5th Dist 1990).

Can My Overpayment of Court Ordered Child Support Obligation from Social Security Dependency Benefits Cover my Arrearages?

The short answer is no. The court has held that a child’s social security disability dependency benefit cannot be credited against a non-custodial parent’s child support arrearage when that arrearage accrued before the non-custodial parent was declared disabled. Illinois’ position on this is consistent with the federal regulations for social security disability benefits, which recognizes that if social security disability dependency benefits are the same as wages and are to be used to cover current maintenance costs, then excess child support payments made to the child from social security disability dependence benefits cannot be applied as a credit against the non-custodial parent’s child support arrearage that accrued before the disability. Before the court decided the holding in Department of Public Aid ex rel. Pinkston v. Pinkston, the Illinois appellate court has never indicated whether the trial court could apply the social security disability dependency benefits as a credit against the child support arrearage that accrued before the non-custodial parent started receiving social security benefits; nevertheless, several other states has addressed this issue. 725 N.E.2d 977, 979 (325 Ill. App. 2nd Dist. 2001). For example, the Montana Supreme Court concluded that the lump sum and weekly social security disability dependency benefits that were in excess of the non-custodial parent’s current child support obligation could not be used to set off the child support arrearage that accrued before the non-custodial parent was disabled because any amount in excess of the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation is a gratuity. Pinkston v. Pinkston, 725 N.E.2d at 981. The court in Pinkston v. Pinkston adopted this view and concluded that a child’s social security disability dependency benefit cannot be credited against a non-custodial parent’s child support arrearage even when that arrearage accrued before the non-custodial parent was declared disabled. Id.

How does a Disabled Child’s Social Security Benefits Affect a Non-Custodial Parent’s Child Support Obligation?

The Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) is a social welfare program for the aged, blind and disabled. SSI is paid to families of disabled children qualifying under Title XVI of the Social Security Act to ensure that the recipient’s needs are met at a level that provides for the necessities of life. SSI benefits received by a disabled child are intended to supplement other income, not substitute for it. Therefore, the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation is not impacted by the receipt of SSI on the behalf of a disabled child.