Divorced parents who receive social security or disability benefits may have questions about how this source of income affects their child support orders. Beginning in 2014, an appellate court ruling in California ruled that the derivative benefits a child receives through social security do not make up part of the parents’ incomes for purposes of child support. In other words, if you’ve retired or become disabled and your child receives derivative social security benefits, the amount of your obligation for child support to the other parent is reduced by that amount.

What are Derivative Social Security Benefits?

When a parent of a young child or children retires or suffers from a disability, not only do they receive social security benefits, but an extra 50% is paid toward the care of their minor children until age 18 as long as they receive at least $1,000 per month. This amount doesn’t increase per number of children but remains at 50% whether the parent has one child or several children. The derivative benefits apply to biological children and adopted children, but not to stepchildren. The same rule applies to recipients of benefits from the Railroad Retirement Act or the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). If parents divorce, that amount remains the same, but the way the children receive the benefit may change depending on which parent has primary custody and which one pays child support.

Derivative Benefits for Custodial vs Non-Custodial Parents

Because derivative benefits are intended as income meant for supporting children when a disabled parent pays child support to a custodial parent the derivative benefit can be paid directly to the custodial parent as an amount separate from the payments the retired or disabled parent receives. To facilitate this, the custodial parent must apply through the Social Security Administration by filling out a simple paper or online form.

Once the custodial parent begins receiving the benefit for the child, that amount is credited toward the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation. For example, if the child support obligation is $1,000 per month and the derivative benefit is $600 a month, the non-custodial parent is responsible for only the remaining $400.

If the retired or disabled parent is the custodial parent, the amount is paid to them for child-rearing purposes.

What if the Custodial Parent Won’t Apply for a Derivative Benefit?

In some cases, a custodial parent may refuse to apply for derivative benefits, either because they dislike the application process or because they see it as helping their ex-partner by reducing the amount of child support they are directly responsible for paying and contentious feelings may cause them to wish to punish the other parent or refuse to make their financial situation less strained. In this case, if the Social Security Administration doesn’t receive an application within 30 days of notifying the custodial parent of their eligibility, the amount the parent would have normally received for the child is credited directly to the support-paying parent’s monthly child support obligation.

Retroactive Derivative Benefits

The SSA can also retroactively activate derivative benefits for the child of a disabled parent for one year after the parent applies for disability if the date of the beginning of the disabling accident or illness dates back a year.

Derivative benefits for children of divorced parents continue until the youngest child turns 18 years old or an only child turns 18. If you have questions, consider speaking with an experienced Los Angeles child support lawyer.