If your family situation involves issues of Social Security Disability benefits and joint child custody, you are dealing with two areas of law: federal law regarding Social Security rules and state law regarding court child custody orders. Although the federal law applies the same throughout the country, state laws vary regarding child custody. In these situations, it is important that the state court child custody order includes provisions that facilitate compliance with the Social Security rules.
Joint Custody Responsibility
A joint child custody order gives both parents authority for making important decisions regarding their child’s care. This is true whether the parents share time equally with the child or one parent is given physical custody and the other parent has visitation rights. Whether or not either parent pays child support to the other will depend on several facts, such as who has primary responsibility for day-to-day expenses and the relative incomes of the parents. Social Security Disability benefits received by the parents or child must be accounted for in the determination of child support.
Representative Payee Responsibility
If the Social Security Disability benefits are being received by the child, one of the parents will be receiving the benefits on behalf of the child as representative payee. Regardless of state court custody laws, as a representative payee you have basic responsibilities under Social Security rules that must be followed. First, you must ensure that the benefits are spent on the child's personal care and well-being, including food and shelter, medical care and recreation. Second, you must account to the Social Security Administration each year regarding how the benefits were spent.
Parent Receiving SSDI
If one of the parents in a joint custody situation is receiving SSDI, this money is included in the parent’s income for the purpose of determining child support payments, if any. The reason for this is that the SSDI benefit is based upon the parent's earned income from working. Depending on the facts of the situation, the parent receiving SSDI may have to pay some of that money to the other parent for child support. If ordered payments are not made, your SSDI check can be garnished for back child support.
In some circumstances a minor child may receive auxiliary SSDI benefits based upon a parent's disability. These benefits should also be included in any child support calculation because the benefits are derived from the parent's earned income. The parent acting as representative payee also has the responsibility to account to the SSA for the use of these benefits.
State Court Custody Agreement
Because the circumstances under which you may be receiving SSDI benefits vary, it is important that any state court custody agreement includes provisions that facilitate the responsibility for receiving and handling SSDI funds. In some situations it may be appropriate for the court to order the parent receiving the child's SSDI payment to split it with the other parent. In another situation, simply including the payment in child support calculations may be a better approach. The important point is to make sure the agreement specifically states how the SSDI payment is to be handled.