by Ashlei D. Gradney
At times, child support can be daunting on clients. Whether one is representing the custodial or non-custodial parent, child support in and of itself is not always cut and dry. One such instance is when a child receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The custodial parent is usually counting on the child support payments from the non-custodial parent to supplement the custodial household; while the non-custodial parent is attempting to budget his or her household understanding there is an obligation of financial support to a child outside his or her home. This becomes more difficult when there is a child with special needs and disabilities.
The Texas Family Code gives a general guideline for child support payments; however, it is important for parents of disabled children receiving SSI to understand how child support payments may impact the child’s SSI eligibility. The savvy family lawyer must merge his or her understanding of the Texas Family Code with the SSA’s is definition of “child,” “income,” and “child support” and use Social Security Code’s formula to determine how child support payments effect the child’s SSI eligibility.
Pursuant to the SSA, “child support” is defined as a payment from a parent to meet the child’s needs for food and shelter. Child support can be in cash or in-kind; it can be voluntary or court ordered. SI §830.420(a)(1). A “child” is defined as neither married, nor the head of a household, and is either under the age of 18, or under the age of 22 and a student regularly attending school, college, or training designed to prepare him or her for a paying job. SI §830.420(a)(3). An “adult child” is a son or daughter who no longer meets the definition of a child. The SSA will consider child support payments income of the child. This directly impacts how much the child will receive in financial means per month.
The importance of SSI goes beyond monetary support and provides many other benefits such as necessary health insurance when the cost of coverage or medication would be astronomical. This is important because the child support received counts as income for SSI eligibility purposes. The difference between when the SSA considers a child a minor or an “adult” determines how much of the child support is considered actual “income” of the child.
The SSA begins with its Federal Benefit Rate (FBR), which at the time of this article is $750 per month. Any income received by the SSI child recipient is deducted from the FBR. It is possible for the child to have a diagnosis making him or her eligible for SSI, but the child support payments received on their behalf may disqualify them from the benefit altogether. SSA calculations for child support differ between minor children and adult children. If a disabled person is still considered a child pursuant to the SSA’s definition, then one-third of the child support received is excluded. However, once the child becomes an adult child, 100 percent of all payments will be considered income belonging to the child, even if the payments are not received by the child.
This is a very important consideration for those ordered to pay life-long child support for a disabled adult child. If the child support received is more than $750 per month, then the disabled individual is at risk of losing their SSI benefit altogether. The older the SSI child recipient, the more important SSI may be to their survival. If a client is faced with this type of scenario and they are the payee of both child support and the child’s SSI, the amount the payee actually receives will be the same. Only the source changes. There are ways to shelter the potential impact child support could have on an SSI recipient, such as a Special Needs Trust, but that goes beyond the scope of this article.
In conclusion, it is important for practitioners to keep in mind that the court will consider the best interest of the child, and that child support is more than a mere numbers game.
Ashlei D. Gradney is the owner of Gradney, PC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.