When child support is calculated, there are a number of factors that are included or excluded based on certain formulas and rules. For example, and common, in determining the amount of child support paid, parents get credit for subsequent children, health insurance payments for the child(ren), and the number of overnights they have the child(ren).
However, there are often many complex mixed fact/legal variables and questions in determining and arising in reaching the proper amount of support to be paid. For example, how do parents include bonuses that are irregular or Social Security benefits that they receive? These variables are explored in the Indiana Child Support Guidelines.1
Social Security benefits are a complex issue in determining child support. Often, social security benefits are a parent’s only source of income; however, same may be considered income for child support purposes.
Generally, the Indiana Child Support Guidelines note that Social Security benefits are included in a parent’s weekly gross income for purposes of determining child support payments.2 Therefore, generally, Social Security benefits are included in determining weekly gross income, even if the parent is unable to or does not work.
The Guidelines also explicitly exclude some monies/benefits from being included in calculating child support, specifically, “benefits from means-tested public assistance programs”. Therefore, benefits from TANF, Supplemental Security Income, and Food Stamps are not used in calculating gross weekly income.
Recently, the Indiana Court of Appeals examined the issue of Social Security benefits and their inclusion into determining child support. In Martinez v. Deeter, the Court decided the issue of whether children’s Social Security survivor benefits could be included in calculating Mother’s child support obligation.3
In Martinez, the children’s Mother and Father divorced, and Mother subsequently remarried, and the Children’s stepfather passed away. Due to the death of the stepfather, both Mother and Children received survivor benefits (Mother had previously been receiving Social Security Disability benefits, but elected to receive survivor benefits as the benefits were higher, and she could not receive both).
The trial court included both the survivor benefits for Mother and the Children in calculating Mother’s gross weekly income for child support, essentially doubling the benefits. The Court held that the children’s survivor benefits were to replace income lost by stepfather’s death and were not to be included in calculating child support.
However, the Court also found that had Mother continued receiving Social Security disability benefits, the benefits to the Children there would have been included for calculating child support. Therefore, the amount the Children would have received from disability benefits should be included in the child support calculation.
As noted in the case above, the nuances of calculating child support and different forms of income are complex and can lead to differing payments. If you are in the midst of a child support determination and you or the other parent has Social Security benefits, you may want to consult with an attorney to determine what can and cannot be attributed to calculations.
Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices law throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by Bryan Ciyou and Jessica Keyes.