Social Security Disability Benefits and Child Support for Massachusetts Dependents

by | Jan 14, 2022 | Child Support |

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can pay benefits to the Massachusetts family members of someone who is disabled and unable to work. Spouses, children and even ex-spouses of someone receiving SSDI benefits may qualify for their own monthly payments. Each qualifying family member could get up to 50% of the amount the disabled beneficiary is getting. However, the total of payments made to the whole family can’t usually be more than 150% of the disabled person’s benefit. 

SSDI Basics

SSDI is for people who have worked and paid Social Security taxes on the wages they earned but have become disabled before reaching age 62, when they can begin receiving regular Social Security benefits. The size of the monthly benefit they are eligible for varies depending on their work and earning history.

The amount of the SSDI benefit also goes up occasionally to make up for inflation. In October 2021, the average monthly benefit was $1,282.37, according to the Social Security Administration.

SSDI is only for workers who are disabled, which is defined as a condition that will last at least 12 months or will end in the person’s death. The condition must also keep the person from working.  Numerous medical conditions can qualify, but the government is generally strict about granting eligibility for disability payments.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is another federal program that can provide monthly payments to disabled people. Unlike SSDI, a disabled person does not need an earnings record to receive SSI benefits. And both children and adults can receive SSI payments. However, SSI recipients must have low incomes and few assets. Also, SSI benefits for 2022 are capped at $841 per month for an individual and no more than $1,261 if that person also has an eligible spouse.

Family Members Who Qualify

Once a person has qualified to receive SSDI payments, his or her family members may also be able to get benefits. Possibly eligible family members include:

  • A spouse, if aged 62 or older
  • A spouse of any age who is taking care of one of children who is disabled or under age 16
  • One of your children who is younger than 18, or younger than 19 and attending high school, including adopted children and sometimes stepchildren and grandchildren
  • An unmarried child 18 or older who has a qualifying disability that began before age 22

Your ex-spouse may also be able to get payments if you are receiving SSDI benefits . Any SSDI payments to a former spouse won’t have any effect on your SSDI benefits. And not all ex-spouses can get them. The divorced spouse must:

  • Have been married to you for at least 10 years
  • Not currently married
  • Be at least 62

How Much They Can Get

Each member of the family of someone getting SSDI benefits can qualify for a separate monthly payment equal to as much as 50% of the disabled person’s benefit amount. So assuming a disabled person is receiving the 2021 average amount of $1,282.37, that person’s child under 18 could receive $641.18 each month.

That can change, however, if a disabled person has more than one family member who qualifies to receive SSDI. That’s because the Social Security Administration has a cap on the total SSDI benefits a family can receive. This cap is generally 150% of the disabled person’s monthly SSDI benefit. However, it can go as high as 180% in some circumstances.

If a family’s total SSDI benefits exceeds the maximum percentage, then Social Security will reduce each person’s payment to keep the total below the cap. The reductions are applied proportionately to each individual’s benefit to get below the cap, except that the disabled parent’s benefit is not reduced. This will reduce each family member’s benefit below 50% of the disabled parent’s benefit.

There is a special rule for the benefits available to the child whose disabled parent dies while receiving SSDI. In that case, the child can receive up to 75% of the person’s basic Social Security benefits, subject to the family maximum.

Also, a disabled child can qualify for their own SSDI benefits even though they have no earnings record. The same goes for an adult child who becomes disabled before age 22.

Child Support Guidelines

If a parent receives social security retirement or SSDI benefits and the children of the parties receive a dependency benefit derived from that parent’s benefit, the amount of the dependency benefit shall be added to the gross income of that parent. See Rosenberg v. Merida, 428 Mass. 182 (1998); Schmidt v. McCulloch-Schmidt, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 902 (2014). This combined amount is that parent’s gross income for purposes of the child support calculation. However, in cases where parents share or split parenting time and the retired or disabled parent is also the child support recipient, only the dependency benefit sent directly to the retired or disabled parent by the Social Security Administration should be added the income of that parent. The guidelines worksheet automatically recognizes this situation and makes the appropriate adjustment.

If the retired or disabled parent is the payor and the amount of the dependency benefit that the Social Security Administration sends to the recipient exceeds the child support obligation calculated under the guidelines, then the payor shall not have responsibility for payment of current child support in excess of the dependency benefit. However, if the guidelines are higher than the dependency benefit that derives from the payor’s benefit, the payor must pay the difference between the dependency benefit and the weekly child support amount under the guidelines. See Rosenberg v. Merida, 428 Mass. 182 (1998).

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