Social Security Benefits and Child Support
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New Jersey follows an “Income Shares Model” of child support; generally speaking, this means that child support is based primarily on income and parenting time.
The current New Jersey Child Support Guidelines ("Guidelines") are contained in Court Rule 5:6A and Appendix IX. Courts awarding support divide the total amount parents would normally spend on a child in an intact family unit (the “basic child support amount,” from Appendix IX-F) between the parents in proportion to their incomes, and then make additional adjustments based on the amount of time a child spends with each parent. Both the basic support amount and the amount of any time-share adjustment will vary depending on whether a court uses the Sole Parenting Worksheet (Appendix IX C) or the Shared Parenting Worksheet (Appendix IX D).
For more information about calculating New Jersey child support, see Child Support in New Jersey, by Susan Bishop.
If you, your child, or your child’s other parent, receive any form of social security benefit, completing the worksheets can be confusing. It helps to have a basic understanding of the different types of social security benefits and how each of these may affect a child support calculation.
While many people think of social security as a retirement program, there are actually several situations that might qualify a person for social security. Parents trying to calculate child support will most frequently have to consider retirement and disability benefits.
Social Security Retirement Benefits
The treatment of social security retirement benefits under the Guidelines is straightforward. Retirement benefits, whether they come from social security or from a retirement account or a pension, replace a person’s earnings. Parents receiving such benefits must include them in their gross income.
Social Security Disability Benefits
The treatment of social security disability benefits is a bit more complicated. The Guidelines treat them differently depending on both of the following:
- the type of benefit (eg., whether the disability benefit is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability (SSD)), and
- the identity of the recipient (eg., whether the disabled person is a custodial parent, a non-custodial parent, or a child).
Social Security Disability (SSD)
SSD is based on a recipient’s work history and is designed to replace lost income for an employee who is disabled and can no longer work. It is “non-means-tested,” which means it's not based on the recipient’s income or other economic resources. For these reasons, the Guidelines treat SSD payments as income to the parent receiving the benefit.
Generally, the dependent child of an SSD beneficiary will also receive a benefit. Regardless of which of the child’s parents is disabled, the Social Security Administration pays the child’s portion of the benefit directly to the child’s custodial parent. For this reason, the Guidelines require courts to deduct the child’s benefit from the basic child support amount before dividing that amount between the parents according to income.
In some cases, deducting the child’s SSD payment from the child support award will result in the child’s benefit operating entirely as a contribution from the non-custodial parent, even if the custodial parent is the disabled party. This could result in a financial hardship for the disabled custodial parent, and by extension, a hardship for the child living with that parent. In this situation, a court can order a deviation (change) from the Guidelines to prevent unfairness.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
SSI benefits are also a form of disability benefit, but they are “means-tested,” meaning based on a recipient’s income and other economic resources. The purpose of SSI is to provide the recipient with minimal basic necessities of life. The Guidelines assume, therefore, that a disabled parent, whose only source of income is SSI, does not have the resources to pay child support, and the Guidelines prohibit including SSI (or any other form of means-tested benefits) as income. Since a dependent child of an SSI recipient does not receive a benefit (unlike the child of an SSD recipient), there will also be no deduction from the basic support award.
A child may receive direct SSI benefits based on the child’s disability and the custodial parent’s financial need. As with any SSI payment, the purpose is to cover the recipient's (in this case the child) basic necessities. The Guidelines therefore prohibit a court from treating a child’s SSI benefits either as income to the custodial parent or as a government benefit operating to offset the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation.
You can learn more about social security benefits, including information about eligibility and how to apply for benefits at the Official Website of the U.S. Social Security Administration.