Disability and child support

During my son’s first episode of psychosis, when all this began, we also found out his girlfriend was pregnant. When she had the baby my son was deep in psychosis and living on the streets so she did not put him on the birth certificate. He is not with the gf anymore but still sees his son as often as we can. The baby’s mother is now saying she will go after him for child support. I thought that since he’s not on the birth certificate she couldn’t but after researching further it looks like she can get a court order for a paternity test and therefore an order for child support. We have been waiting to see if my son will be approved for SSI. If he is approved can that be garnished for child support? Don’t get me wrong, under normal circumstances I would certainly believe he would need to pay it. It just seems so unfair that he was dealt these cards with this illness and if he is approved for SSI, which I’m sure won’t be much, it will be taken from him too. Does anyone have any experience with this?

1 Like

My initial read of the statue seems to indicate he may be subject to garnishment:

Generally, Social Security benefits are exempt from execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or from the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law. The exceptions are that benefits are subject: (1) to the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury to make levies for the collection of delinquent Federal taxes and under certain circumstances delinquent child support payments; and (2) to garnishment or similar legal process brought by an individual to enforce a child support or alimony obligation.


1 Like

I know ssdi can be garnished for child support and regular social security. I think ssi is different.

1 Like

SSI, the benefit widely available to low-income disabled persons, whether or not they were ever employed or paid Social Security taxes, does not count as income for child support determination, and it cannot be taken from the disabled person for their child support payments. SSDI, the disability income benefit that is based on a worker’s Social Security tax payments, IS counted as income for those purposes, however. That actually makes sense, because SSDI isn’t need-tested, meaning that someone who had plenty of other income could still qualify for it.


I stand corrected. The SSI vs SSDI question has always confused me because both are disability programs, thanks for explaining it. My brother has steadfastly refused either one because of his concern of stigma surrounding being disabled much less mentally ill.

SSDI can as @hope indicates be garnished up to 50%, if my reading of the rule book is correct.


Thank you! He certainly is willing to contribute what he can for his son, and we as grandparents have as well. I just didn’t want the little bit he gets, if he’s even approved, to be forcefully taken from him. It’s good to know SSI is different.

It’s an extremely bittersweet situation. In a lot of ways the baby has been a blessing during such a difficult time but it’s also heartbreaking to know our son isn’t able to be the father he needs to be, right now anyway. I hope over time he can be.

1 Like

Yes, the similarity in the names of the benefits causes lots of confusion. Both are administered by the Social Security Administration, but SSDI is funded through Social Security taxes and has more stringent eligibility requirements (e.g., recent employment history), while SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is funded through ordinary income tax revenues.

1 Like

We’ve had to work hard to convince my brother-in-law to apply for disability. It’s not just the stigma that is the problem, but also the expectation that a man should have a job, IMO. I think what has helped has been explaining that he’s old enough to be retired, anyway, so if anyone asks, he can just give that reason for not having a job. It’s not as if it’s anyone’s business but his.

1 Like

Yes, that’s a tactic my sister had been trying for years since he was 62. It’s been slow-going turning the ship, but now that he’s turned 65 and on Medicare it’s been easier to frame things that way. Not full retirement age for his year yet, but getting close.

We ended giving up on disability because of his objections and putting together a patchwork of employment through friends so he’d have enough work history to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. This was at the suggestion of the lawyer who set up his trust, but it also got him balled-up with ACA healthcare subsidies because his state wasn’t part of the Medicaid expansion. So my sister was in the bizarro world of finding a way for him to earn more income so he’d qualify for healthcare subsidies. Things are easier now that he’s on Medicare.

Another thing that helped was that we told his doctor that we couldn’t continue supporting him until he reached his full SS retirement age, meaning that he could be out on the street. That is obviously something that we would have gone to great lengths to prevent, but my spouse, who provides the money, would like to retire, and the current outlay is simply not sustainable. After offering some basically unhelpful suggestions for him to reduce his cost of living, such as giving up his car or moving to a one-bedroom place in a not-so-safe area, the medical people had a serious talk with him about his options. That apparently did the trick, because his attitude toward appealing his disability benefits denial has changed for the better.

After he called me to say that he wanted to go ahead with the appeal, I reinforced the decision by assuring him that accepting disability was not a reflection of his intelligence or skills, but rather a recognition that some aspects of his illness made it difficult to sustain employment. We also talked about the difficulty in finding an appropriate job, as well as the ubiquity of age discrimination even in today’s tight job market. Lastly, I pointed out that several other mutual acquaintances of nearly the same age as he were already retired.

Thankfully, we have found an attorney who has agreed to take his case, after the first we approached turned us down.

“…I reinforced the decision by assuring him that accepting disability was not a reflection of his intelligence or skills, but rather a recognition that some aspects of his illness made it difficult to sustain employment.”

I’m going to remember to tell my son this the next time he denies having issues with working and applying for SSI. My son truly wants to work. He has no problem getting jobs (often to my surprise due to his appearance and flat affect. In my day we dressed and spoke well for interviews but maybe that’s not the case these days :woman_shrugging:) He has it within him that he needs to work, and he needs the dignity that working provides but he simply cannot keep a job. He doesn’t get fired but quits usually after about a month in. I believe it’s because the stress of working and having to interact with the public causes him a lot of anxiety and he sort of spirals. It’s such a dilemma because the stress isn’t good for him but neither is sitting at home doing nothing all the time.


My son had same issue with work, he finally got a job and he has only been putting stickers on shoes, for 2 months. however the SSI is now going to be zero, based a little bit on their mistake and I’m appealing. It should be $400. So he works 20 hr a week, and they basically will take 1/2. It isnt much left for them

1 Like

I have experience with this. SSI is a means based welfare program, and therefore cannot be garnished or taken for child support. In their laws. Used in CA courts for our cases.
However if you want to help her and your grandchild, (have a paternity test) then it could be nice.
She also should apply for SNAP, welfare for the child. CA gives appx. $600 plus per child, plus food, WIC, not sure about other states benefits, but she could also get free medical.

1 Like