Parental Disability and Child Support

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Parental disability is a serious threat to families who depend on regular child support payments. If you or your ex-partner experiences a physical disability, and child support can no longer be paid on time or in full, can child support be taken from disability payments?

In general, the obligation to provide child support does not cease if a parent becomes disabled. However, it's easy to see how the inability to work will negatively impact one's ability to provide reliable financial support.

Disability and Child Support Payments

If your ex is compelled by court order to pay child support, and suddenly experiences a disability that interferes with his or her ability to work, what can you do? Custodial parents who find themselves in this situation should start by asking the following questions.

Does the Disabled Parent Have Disability Insurance?

The parent may have disability insurance benefits that are automatically provided by their employer. If this is the case, then it's reasonable to expect the parent with a disability to continue to pay child support. However, the child support formula is based on parental income, and the parent may be able to seek a modification of child support for the duration of the disability.

If approved, this would mean that even though child support payments would continue, the amount would be less than you've grown used to receiving, and you must adjust to receiving less financial support. While unfortunate, this may be a reality for the duration of the paying parent's disability.

Is the Parent's Disability Temporary or Permanent? 

Typically, the court will order a temporary modification of child support if the disability isn't expected to be permanent. For example, the court may decrease the child support amount for a specific number of weeks or months, depending on the anticipated duration of the disability. If the disability lasts longer than expected, the parent with a disability may go back to court and request that the modification of child support payments continue for a longer period or even indefinitely. 

The court may be able to order a permanent modification of child support and close the case if a parent's disability is medically considered permanent and the parent has no income or assets which could be levied for the support. If the parent did have some sort of income, the court would base the ongoing child support payments on the disability benefit, as well as any additional income the disabled parent may receive. In some cases, this may result in significantly less child support (or none at all) being owed or received by you.

Garnishing Disability Benefits for Child Support Payments 

In some cases, disability benefits may be garnished to pay current or back child support payments. While this may seem unfair to the parent with a disability, the state takes very seriously the need to maintain regular child support payments.

Parents who owe child support and who receive disability benefits should be aware that the courts can dip into those benefits and formally garnish them before they even get to you. This makes it virtually impossible not to pay at least part of your regular child support payments. It can also make paying other bills or buying groceries extremely difficult when trying to get by on the remaining amount.

Another type of disability benefit is Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This government program provides financial support to disabled individuals with lower incomes. If a parent's wages are paid directly by SSI, they cannot usually be garnished for things like child support. However, the benefit can be garnished for nonpayment of child support if the parent is receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Help for Disabled Parents Who Owe Child Support

Parents with disabilities who are struggling to pay child support should seek a modification of child support before having their wages garnished. A modification may be granted following a legitimate decrease in income due to your disability. In such cases, the court will evaluate the nature of the disability, as well as the expected duration of the impairment.

If you need assistance navigating the system, research the child support laws in your state and seek help from a family law attorney with experience handling disability and child support cases.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I find out if a non-custodial parent is receiving SSDI benefits?

A non-custodial parent would likely make it clear that they are receiving SSDI benefits if they are seeking to modify their child support obligations. Details about the benefits will be examined by the court as it makes a decision on whether or not the disability should alter the child support arrangement. If a non-custodial parent receives SSDI benefits but never missed a child support payment, you would not necessarily find out about the disability.

Can I go to jail for non-payment of child support while waiting for a decision regarding my disability application?

You can go to jail for missing child support payments, but it's unlikely in this scenario. If you're proactively communicating with the court about your disability application, then you will likely be given some short-term flexibility on payments. Harsh punishments like jail time are typically reserved for those who blatantly ignore obligations and willfully disobey the court.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Office of the Legislative Counsel. "Title IV of the Social Security Act," Page 214.

  2. Office of Child Support Enforcement. "A Guide to an Employer's Role in the Child Support Program," Page 4-3.

  3. Disability Benefits Center. "Can Disability Benefits Be Garnished as Child Support?"

  4. Office of Child Support Enforcement. "Closing Cases When the Noncustodial Parents Receives SSI Benefits and Is Unable to Pay Child Support."

  5. Office of Child Support Enforcement. "Changing a Child Support Order," Page 7.

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