Means-Tested Benefits Don’t Automatically Stop Support
Parent Receiving SSI, TANF Benefits May Still Have to Pay Child Support in New Jersey
A common misconception encountered by family law attorneys is that a parent who receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is automatically entitled to a suspension or reduction of their child support obligation.
That’s simply not the case as a recent unpublished (and therefore non-binding) decision from the New Jersey Appellate Division articulated:
…[a]s made clear in Burns, supra, and as reiterated in Crespo, supra, a parent’s receipt of means-tested benefits does not in and of itself require suspension or reduction of a child support obligation. The court must find that the parent receives means tested benefits and is unable to earn additional income, such that additional income cannot be imputed to the parent. See Crespo, supra, 395 N.J. Super. at 194-95; Burns, supra, 367 N.J. Super. at 50. A total suspension of defendant’s obligations without an ability-to-earn analysis is inappropriate.
The case from whose decision this excerpt is taken, Bell v. Bell, involved a payor parent who sought to reduce his child support obligation when he lost his job and began receiving Temporary Assistance to Need Families (TANF) benefits. The payee spouse filed an appeal after the trial court judge suspended the payor parent’s child support obligation on that basis; the Appellate Court remanded the case for the trial judge to consider “whether any income should have been imputed to defendant during the period when he was receiving TANF benefits.”
The analysis for Social Security Disability (SSD) income is much more straightforward since it is always considered income for the purposes of calculating child support. The SSI program originated under then-President Richard Nixon as an effort to federalize and streamline state-based supplemental income programs which often applied different standards for recipients. Unlike SSI benefits which are means-tested and, therefore, contingent upon the “need” of the recipient, SSD income is predicated on the actual Social Security earnings history of the insured disabled worker. SSI benefits and TANF benefits themselves “cannot be garnished or attached for child support” as the Bell Court noted; the key is whether the Court believes, on the basis of the facts before it, whether the spouse at issue can earn more money in addition to their supplemental income.
Child support can be less-than-straightforward to figure out particularly when one party is receiving government benefits. You may need the assistance of an experienced attorney who can not only advocate effectively on your behalf but also work with your financial documentation, government statistics and, in some cases, vocations experts to ensure that your children’s other parent is imputed at a proper income level for the purposes of ascertaining the right child support amount. Proceeding in a haphazard manner could cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on an annual basis.
If you have questions involving the calculation of a child support obligation, then please don’t hesitate to contact the South Jersey child support attorneys at DeMichele and DeMichele. Call 856-546-1350 today to schedule your confidential consultation with an experienced child support and family law attorney.