Can child support be taken from disability benefits?


If you owe child support, your disability insurance benefit may count as income when the courts determine how much you have to pay

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Amanda Shih

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is an editor and a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert at Policygenius, where she writes about life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

 & Elissa Suh

Elissa Suh

Senior Editor & Disability Insurance Expert

Elissa Suh is a senior editor and disability insurance expert at Policygenius, where she also covers wills, trusts, and advance planning. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, CNBC, PBS, Inverse, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more.

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When you are unable to work due to illness or injury, your disability insurance can help replace your paycheck until you recover, or your benefit period ends. If you owe child support, your disability benefits — with the exception of SSI benefits — may count as income when a court decides how much you have to pay each month.

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There are no federal guidelines regarding disability insurance and child support. States have their own procedures and they generally don't differentiate between your private disability insurance and Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) when calculating your income for child support purposes. In some states, you may be able to deduct your disability insurance premiums from the income you're obligated to pay in child support.

Key Takeaways

  • Disability benefits from either an employer-sponsored policy or a private one count as income toward child support obligations.

  • SSDI benefits can be garnished for child support.

  • SSI benefits cannot be garnished for child support.

  • You must continue paying child support even when you receive disability payments, unless you get a modification order from the court.

Disability and child support

When you become injured or disabled your financial situation may change, but you are still obligated to continue paying child support. For this reason, you may want to consider getting disability insurance to protect your income.

Private disability insurance includes short-term disability insurance, which you usually purchase through your employer's benefits program, and long-term disability insurance, which you typically purchase on your own.

You may be required by law to reveal any disability insurance benefits you receive when your child support amount is being decided.

Each state has its own laws governing what types of income can be used to calculate your child support obligation, as well as other court-ordered supports like alimony. Disability benefit payments are considered income in addition to your salary, wages, tips, commissions, royalties, bonuses, and interest and dividends. As with other types of income, disability insurance benefits can usually be garnished if you don't pay your child support.

If you live in a state that requires non-custodial parents to purchase disability insurance, you may be able to deduct the premium from your child support obligation or receive a credit for them.

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Can child support be taken from VA disability benefits?

VA disability benefits are paid directly from the Department of Veterans affairs. If you receive disability income from the VA, it cannot be garnished unless you originally opted to waive a portion of your regular military pay to receive the disability benefits. [1]

Can child support be taken from Social Security disability benefits?

The Social Security Administration has its own disability insurance program called Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), and anyone who's worked the prerequisite number of years is eligible to receive benefits. 

Your monthly SSDI payment is factored into your income to determine your child support obligation. Likewise, Social Security disability benefits can be garnished if you can’t make your child support payments.

Applying and getting approved for SSDI takes a long time, so many SSDI recipients are also eligible to receive back pay for the number of months that elapsed between becoming eligible for SSDI and being approved for benefits. The court may also take this back pay into account when determining your child support obligation, and it can be garnished retroactively just like your regular disability benefits.

→ Learn about long-term disability vs SSDI

SSDI dependent benefits and child support

Your SSDI benefits may include dependent benefits, which provides money to an SSDI recipient’s dependents, like their children or grandchildren. If you owe child support, some states may allow you to apply the derivative benefit to your child support payment, leaving you responsible only for the excess amount.

SSI and child support

Benefits from supplemental security income (SSI) cannot be garnished. This needs-based program is administered by Social Security for blind or deaf people who have limited financial resources.

In some states, qualifying for SSI also reduces the amount of SSDI that can be used to calculate your income, which will factor into how much child support you might owe.

What to do if you can’t pay child support due to disability

If you become disabled and unable to work, you may no longer be able to cover your expenses including child support, or your disability benefits may still fall short of your regular paycheck. 

If that’s the case, you may be able to get a child support order modification that lowers your payments while you’re disabled. You may have to submit the modification in court and appear in person with your child's other parent to argue your case, but it could save you hundreds of dollars.

The court may decide to lower your child support obligations, whether temporarily or for an extended period of time. The court may also increase the other parent's support obligations to make up for the difference during the time your disability affects your ability to pay child support. 

States use different methods of calculating child support obligations and determining how much a custodial and noncustodial parent might owe. A family law attorney should be able to answer questions about your specific situation.  

Be sure to submit the modification request as soon as possible, because it can take time to process it, and you’ll still be on the hook for child support during the interim before your modification request is approved. 

→ Learn more about disability insurance and family finances

Frequently asked questions

Is disability income subject to child support?

Payments from long-term disability insurance policy, employer-sponsored disability insurance, and SSDI benefits are subject to child support obligations, but SSI benefits are not. You must continue paying child support unless you get a modified court order.

Can disability payments be garnished for child support?

Some types of disability benefits can be garnished from your wages: SSDI benefits can be garnished, but SSI payments cannot.

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 more questions, consult with a family law attorney.