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How Social Security Benefits Affect Pennsylvania Child Support

June 25, 2014

When a parent involved in a child support matter receives Social Security Disability payments, the normal child support calculation guidelines are replaced with a supplemental and more complex analysis. This supplemental process is intended to reflect the additional income and unique nature of Social Security Disability insurance benefits.

Social Security Disability insurance, or SSD, is a federal disability insurance program that pays benefits to individuals who have been classified as disabled pursuant to federal guidelines. When a parent receives SSD, their dependents are also eligible to receive a monthly benefit of up to 50% of the monthly benefit of the parent (this is called the “derivative benefit”). In such cases, derivative benefits may be proportionally reduced so that no “family” may receive more than 150-180% of the disabled person’s benefit.

Basic child support in Pennsylvania is calculated according to a simple formula in which the parents’ net income is calculated and then plugged-into a table of basic child support amounts. The table provides support amounts based on the parents’ net income and the total number of children for which support is owed. See Pa. R.C.P. 1910.16-3. For example, in a case where the parents’ total monthly net income is $2,150 and the parties have two children, the basic child support amount per the table is $747.00. The $747.00 basic child support amount is then divided between the parents based upon their respective share of their monthly income.

Where one parent is disabled and receiving SSD benefits, however, the process becomes more complex. While this process still begins with the normal calculation of the parents’ total net income, including SSD benefits, the child support calculation in disability cases requires at least one extra step.

In SSD cases, after the parties’ total net income is calculated, the amount that the child receives as a derivative benefit is then added to that figure and the new total is plugged-in to the basic child support table. For example, where the parents’ total monthly net income is $1,800, but the father is disabled and the parties have one child who receives a $300 monthly “derivative benefit” from Social Security as a result of father’s disability, the new net income amount will be $2,100 and the basic child support obligation (per the table) would be $505.00. Next, the $505 basic child support amount is reduced by the $300 SSD derivative benefit, leaving a net child support amount of $205. 

Another issue in support cases involving Social Security Disability benefits is the determination of parent receives the child support, and which parent receives the SSD derivative benefit. Typically, the parent with the most custody time will be entitled to receive the SSD derivative benefit check. That parent will also likely receive any child support order. This is not always the case, however, and in cases of equal and shared custody the minor’s SSD payee could be either parent.

In cases where the disabled parent does not have primary or shared custody, that parent likely will not be designated as the minor’s SSD representative payee, and may also face a child support obligation. If the disabled parent does have primary or shared custody, then that parent may be eligible to receive the child’s SSD derivative benefit check as well as child support from the non-disabled parent. Finally, in shared custody situations, if the minor’s SSD representative payee is the parent who would owe child support by virtue of their already higher income, then the derivative benefit is added to that parent’s income only and a regular child support calculation is performed.

As you can see, there are many different combinations of the possible application of a child’s SSD derivative benefits in a support case. This is but one example of the ways that an otherwise “simple” case can become very complex. The fact is that all child support cases involve unique facts -- no two child support matters are the same. he safest course is always to consult with a qualified legal professional.

For more information on how Willig, Williams & Davidson can help protect your rights in any child support matter, feel free to contact any of our Domestic Relations / Family Law attorneys.

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