Child support obligations do not generally cease when the paying parent becomes disabled, but disability can affect payment amounts as well as when and how they are received. The expected duration of the disability, whether the paying parent has private, employer-sponsored, or social security disability benefits, and whether back payments are owed can all impact future child support.
Child Support Obligations of Disabled Parents
When disability leaves a parent unable to work, disability insurance payments may help cover the cost of child support. Because disability payments are generally lower than the parent’s regular pay, however, paying child support can create a financial hardship. To avoid falling behind, the disabled parent may be able to seek a modification of child support to reduce payments. Modified child support payments will be based on disability income as well as any additional income the parent receives. Child support modifications can be temporary or permanent.
Modifications to child support do not typically impact child support arrears, even when payment amounts are significantly reduced. Additionally, SSDI benefits and most private disability payments can be garnished when parents owe back child support. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), however, is a subsistence allowance and cannot be garnished for past child support obligations.
The Effect of Social Security
When a non-custodial parent starts receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), Social Security provides a dependent disability allowance. This benefit is paid directly to the custodial parent each month as part of the disability payments the disabled individual receives. In Illinois, this payment may fulfill the non-custodial parent’s obligations for child support payments, even if it is significantly less than what the parent was paying prior to the disability.
Sometimes there is an extended period of time between when the disability started and when disability income payments begin. During that time, if the parent is unable to pay child support a substantial amount of arrearages can begin to build up. When there are unpaid child support arrearages, disability dependency benefits are not credited to the amount owed before the parent became disabled but SSDI back pay can be used to catch up arrearages that built up after the disability occurred.