Nowadays, people do not take Social Security for granted. The media is filled with stories about Congress considering whether to make cuts. Accordingly, people carry some stress around the impact of Social Security on child support awards, since every dollar can be precious to families and kids, especially when one family unit splits into two households in divorce or separation.
What happens in Florida when Social Security benefits are part of the means of family support and the size of a child support award is under consideration? The answer is short: it depends. Specifically, it depends on which party receives the benefit and which kind of Social Security benefit it is.
Types of Social Security benefits at issue
Two types of benefits are based on a person’s work record and how much he or she has paid in to the Social Security trust fund over time: retirement and disability, specifically called Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI. Supplemental Security Income or SSI is a third benefit, more like a welfare benefit and not based on earnings. SSI payments are relatively small in comparison to retirement or SSDI.
Who might receive them?
In sorting out the impact of Social Security payments on child support, keep in mind the scenarios created by who is in receipt:
- Child support payor: The parent who may pay child support may be receiving any three of these kinds of payments, although if he or she is in a position to pay child support, being on SSI is very unlikely, as for adults it is a program to prevent impoverishment for people with limited assets who are disabled, blind or elderly.
- Child support recipient: The prospective child support recipient could also be receiving any type of Social Security benefit.
- Child: Any minor child of the marriage (or relationship) could receive SSI based on disability (child’s SSI is slightly different) or dependent benefits based on a parent’s receipt of retirement or SSDI.
Impact on child support
Florida child support guidelines consider each parent’s income, among other things, in determining the proper child support amount. The statute allows for some variation of this amount in certain circumstances. The law specifically includes Social Security benefits as part of gross income for each parent in the determination of child support.
When a minor child receives dependent benefits based on the potentially paying parent’s retirement or disability benefits, the dependent’s payments count toward income for that parent. However, the child’s payment is then subtracted or credited back from the monthly child support payment. If the dependent’s amount is higher than the child support payment, the child support payment would zero it out, but the excess would remain with the child, rather than going back to the parent.
Keep in mind these dependency benefits are likely payable to the custodial parent for the child’s benefit. Even though that parent receives them, they are not income to him or her for purposes of child support because the parent must use them for the child, not the parent.
If a child receives SSI, it would not count toward the payor parent’s income nor subtracted from the child support payment.
Garnishment of Social Security benefits
If a payor parent is behind on child support and he or she receives retirement or SSDI benefits, a percentage of them are subject to garnishment. SSI is protected from garnishment. The recipient would need to get a garnishment order from the Florida court that he or she can then present to the Social Security Administration or SSA.
This introduces a complex topic. At our law firm, we advise people about their own circumstances that may involve Social Security benefits and child support.