What Happens When Your Child’s Other Parent Becomes Disabled After Divorce?

Divorce can be financially and emotionally stressful for both parties involved, regardless of the cause. Splitting from a single household into two can bring with it a number of additional costs -- and even with regular child support payments, it can be difficult to maintain the same standard of living you had before if you're the primary custodial parent. If your child's other parent becomes disabled after your divorce, what will happen to your child support agreement? Does your child have any recourse for a unilateral decrease in the amount of child support paid?

Read on to learn more about how the disability process can impact child support payments and other financial obligations.

Can someone whose only income is Social Security Disability be required to pay child support?

Both Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are unlike other sources of income in that they are rarely garnishable. For example, if you default on a car loan or medical debt, even after your creditor has received a judgment against you, he or she is not permitted to withdraw funds or freeze accounts into which SSD payments are deposited. On the other hand, regular W2 income or other income can usually be seized immediately.

However, the duty to financially support one's children often supersedes even the strict limitations on the collectibility of SSD payments. If your child's other parent is receiving SSD (which is based on his or her earnings record, like Social Security retirement), he or she will still be required to make regular child support payments based on his or her new reduced income.

If your child's other parent is receiving SSI, which is a subsistence level benefit designed for those who don't have the requisite work or earnings history to qualify for SSD, his or her child support obligation may be suspended indefinitely. Most SSI payments won't put the recipient above poverty level, so it's unlikely you'll be able to collect much in the way of child support, and any past-due payments are exempt from garnishment. If your child's other parent eventually recovers and returns to work, your payments may resume at a level proportionate to your child's other parent's new (or potential) salary.

What options are available to help you support your child after his or her other parent becomes disabled?

Unless the child support payment you receive was low enough to not require modification when your spouse began receiving SSD payments, it's likely that your overall household income was reduced by your ex-spouse's recent disability. However, your minor child should qualify to receive his or her own supplemental SSD payments to help compensate for the reduced child support payment. These payments are similar to the monthly Social Security payments a minor child begins to receive when his or her parent dies.

As soon as you find out your child's other parent has suffered a disability and applied for SSD or SSI payments, you'll want to apply for these supplemental benefits -- this will ensure there is little disruption in your monthly income. Although your child should be entitled to retroactive payments dating back to the initial onset of his or her parent's disability, this process can be lengthy, and in the meantime you may have trouble getting by without your normal child support payment.

If you're concerned about your ability to pay for your child's higher education without another parent chipping in on the cost, you may want to have your child look into disability-specific college scholarships. There may be both federal and private scholarships available to the child of a disabled parent that can help defray the costs of tuition, room, board, and books.

Contact a social security lawyer for additional info and assistance.