Can They Garnish Disability for Child Support Arrears?

by Margot Lester   ·  1 month ago  

Reader question: “If I receive SSI/SSDI and I owe child support arrears, how much of either my monthly checks or of backpay can they seize?”

Answer: It depends on which program pays you disability benefits: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Federal law prohibits the Federal government from garnishing SSI payments for child support arrears, but SSDI payments can be garnished under certain circumstances.

What To Do If You’re on Disability Benefits, but Behind on Your Court-Ordered Payments

TO DO: Ask the judge to modify child support requirements given your current situation. You must keep making your payments while you wait on the decision, though. 

Let’s take a closer look at each scenario.

FYI: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau defines garnishing as “when a creditor takes a portion of your paycheck or money from your bank account to collect money you owe. Garnishments generally require a court order that results from a judgment. However, certain debts owed to the government may also result in garnishment, even without a judgment.”

SSI & Child Support Arrears

SSI (Supplemental Security Income) pays benefits to children and adults with very few resources, little to no income, and no recent work history. They won’t garnish SSI benefits because they’re designed to cover your basic food and shelter needs. This includes any lump sum back benefits and SSI payments you have in a savings account.

TO DO: Talk to your banker to see if your SSI funds are protected from garnishment. (Some requirements apply.)

FYI: You may be able to apply for Social Security dependent benefits for your child. The Social Security Administration makes payments to children when a parent is eligible for either regular retirement or SSDI. Working with an attorney makes it three times more likely your application is successful.

SSDI & Child Support Arrears

It’s completely legal to garnish Social Security Disability Insurance payments for child support arrears. Here are the rates from the Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection Act Title III:

  • 60% of your disposable earnings if you’re single
  • 50% if you currently support either a spouse or a child
  • 5% more for payments that are more than 12 weeks past due

TO DO: Contact an experienced disability attorney if you disagree with a garnishment of your SSDI benefits. Getting legal help is more affordable than you think. Disability attorneys work on contingency, so you only pay a one-time fee if you win.

The federal government can also garnish your SSDI benefits for repayment of several specific government-secured debts, including:

  • Back taxes
  • Certain civil penalties
  • Defaulted federal loan payments (including federally backed student loans)

RELATED: It’s also possible to garnish regular Social Security benefits if you owe back child support payments. Section 459 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 659) authorizes the Federal government to withhold current and continuing Social Security payments to enforce your legal requirement to pay child support and other obligations.

Margot Lester
CEO at The Word Factory | + posts

Margot Lester is the CEO of The Word Factory, a B2B & B2C content marketing agency that provides services for Fortune 100 brands, healthtech companies and SaaS developers. An award-winning business and brand journalist, she writes for daily and weekly newspapers and business journals, national magazines, in-flight publications and leading websites. Margot is also an in-demand writing coach and organizational communications trainer, helping individuals and teams write more effectively. Twitter: @word_factory LinkedIn: