Despite a parent’s desires and intentions to work and maximize their earning potential, living with a disability can stand in the way of those goals. When combined with a parent’s legal obligation to financially support their children, the issue of disability raises some interesting questions. In other words, what impact does a parent’s disability have on their child support obligation?
All Parents Have a Duty to Support their Children
Under North Carolina laws, all parents have a legal duty to support their children. This duty exists even if a parent is disabled or becomes disabled. What courts look at is based on an “income shares” model, which considers both parents’ relative incomes, the needs and expenses of the child, and the number of nights the children spend at each parent’s home.
When a parent has a disability or develops one, a court will still look to the various sources of income that parent has to determine their ability to pay child support.
Social Security Income (SSI)
Social security income is tax-funded money that a person can qualify for if they can demonstrate that they have a disability, that they are low-income, and that their disability renders them unable to maintain gainful employment. SSI requirements are very stringent and the payments are essentially designed to keep a person from becoming financially destitute. As such, SSI payments are not subject to garnishment when it comes to past or current child support obligations.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
If a parent has a history of working and contributing taxes into social security for at least five years, and makes less than a pre-determined income, then that parent may be eligible to receive social security disability benefits if they should become disabled.
Notably, these SSDI payments are fair game as income when it comes to supporting a child or can be garnished to satisfy back child support. However, a caveat with that is that SSDI payments are usually a lot less than what the qualifying parent used to make before their disability, which means that a court may be open to modifying the support obligation to reflect this decrease in income. Of course, this child support modification will depend on the nature of the disability and whether it is a permanent one.
In addition to SSDI, the children of SSDI recipients may qualify to receive “auxiliary benefits” which are payments for the benefit of the disabled person’s child made to the parent with custody. While this payment amount may not be as much as the parent was able to pay pre-disability, it can nevertheless serve as an important resource to benefit the child.
New Direction Family Law
New Direction Family Law provides legal representation and counsel to fathers and mothers who are seeking to resolve child custody and support issues. Children deserve parents who support them, but that doesn’t mean that parents are without legal rights. Our attorneys are smart, experienced, and thoughtful, and will look at the totality of the parents’ and children’s circumstances in advocating our clients’ positions in court. If you need help, call us at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment or visit our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law