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Child support and disability insurance

Disability insurance benefits count as income when it comes to child support payments.

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Andrew HurstSenior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance ExpertAndrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Edited by

Anna SwartzAnna SwartzSenior Managing Editor & Auto Insurance ExpertAnna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

Updated|3 min read

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You still have to pay child support even if you are sick or injured and need to take time off of work. If you’re temporarily or permanently disabled and collecting benefits from a private disability insurance policy or through Social Security — both types of benefits can be garnished if you fall behind on child support payments.

Key takeaways

  • Disability benefits from both an employer-sponsored or private policy count as income for child support.

  • You have to pay child support even when you’re getting disability payments, unless you get a modification order from the court.

  • Disability benefits from Social Security can be garnished, but benefits from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cannot.

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Do you have to pay child support if you’re disabled?

You’re responsible for making on-time child support payments even if you become disabled and can’t work. This is true whether your disability is temporary or you can’t return to work ever again.

Your disability benefits serve as income while you can’t work, so you have to report any disability benefits you’re receiving as part of your income if you’re in the process of determining child support payments.

But states have their own rules for disability insurance and child support. Since the law can be different in each state, it’s best to contact a lawyer or legal professional for help navigating the process.

What is disability insurance?

Disability insurance replaces your income when an unexpected injury or illness — like a broken leg from a car accident or a joint pain flare up — prevents you from working. You may get disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (if you meet work requirements and other baselines), or from a private or group disability insurance policy.

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Can child support garnish your disability benefits?

If you fall behind on your child support payments, the state can garnish (meaning withhold some of the money from) your disability benefits whether you’re receiving long-term, short-term, or group disability benefits — they’re all forms of income as far as missed child support payments go.

If you’re having a hard time covering your expenses and your child support payments with your disability benefits, you can apply for a modification. The court will decide whether or not to lower your child support obligations. You still have to keep up with your child support payments during the modification process.

Child support and Social Security benefits

Disability benefits from Social Security (abbreviated as SSDI for Social Security disability insurance) are a form of income and can be garnished if you miss your child support payments, just like benefits from a private disability policy.

Your state may have laws for how much of your SSDI benefits can be garnished if you’re late on your payments. These rules can vary from state to state.

Applying and getting approved for SSDI takes a long time, and plenty of people simply won’t qualify. If you do, you may be eligible for back pay for the months that went by between becoming eligible for SSDI and getting approved. The court can also take your back pay into account when determining your child support payments and garnish this income retroactively, just like your regular disability benefits.

What to know about dependent benefits

Dependent benefits from Social Security are different from child support. These are benefits that your child (and sometimes a divorced spouse) are eligible for. The Social Security Administration allows your children to receive benefits if they’re:

  • Unmarried

  • Younger than 18

  • 18 or 19 years old and a full-time student

  • 18 or older and disabled since before turning 22

Your child’s benefit may be up to 50% of your benefit and may help to offset your total child support payments.

→ Read more about disability insurance for families

What about Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Unlike with other disability benefits, benefits that you get from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) — the needs-based program administered by Social Security for blind or deaf people who have limited financial resources — can’t be garnished.

Since SSI is for people with financially insecure people with low incomes, you have a better chance of successfully lowering your child support payments through modification if you collect SSI benefits.

Can child support be taken from VA disability benefits?

Things work a little differently with Veterans Affairs benefits: disability benefits from the VA aren’t considered income and most of the time aren’t garnished unless you waive part of your regular military pay to receive the disability benefits. 

If your VA benefits are garnished, the Veterans Service Center will withhold your benefits and make payments toward the person owed your child support.

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Frequently asked questions

Is disability income subject to child support?

Payments from long-term disability insurance policy, employer-sponsored disability insurance, and SSDI benefits can all determine what you’ll pay for child support.

Can disability payments be garnished for child support?

Some types of disability benefits can be garnished from your wages: SSDI benefits and payments from a private disability insurance policy can be garnished, but not SSI.

What percentage of SSDI can be garnished for child support?

The Consumer Protection Act allows for 50% to 60% of your wages to be garnished from your paycheck for child support. If you have questions about your specific financial situation, consult a family law attorney.

Author

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Editor

Anna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

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