Application Of Child Support From Social Security Disability Challenged
- July 20, 2015
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In Watson v. Chamberlain, the Defendant appealed from a Court Order entered in 2014 with regard to the Plaintiff’s child support obligation for their daughter. The parties in this case were never married. They had a daughter together in 1998. In 1999, the Family Court issued an Order requiring the Plaintiff to pay to the Defendant $88.00 a week in child support. By 2014, when the Motions in this case were filed, the Plaintiff’s child support obligation had increased to $117.00 a week due to cost of living adjustments. The Plaintiff had gone on and off Social Security Disability (SSD) throughout his daughter’s life, and as a result, received multiple lump SSD dependency checks on the child’s behalf. He received $8,329.00 in 2005, $13,820.00 in 2009, and $11,297.00 in 2013. With regard to the 2005 and 2009 SSD checks, the Family Court first applied the money to the Plaintiff’s arrears with the remaining amounts being put in a trust fund for the child’s future education. Each time, though, the Defendant claimed that she had already spent the money on the child’s behalf. Due to this, the court amended its Orders to credit the balance from each check against the Plaintiff’s future support obligations. The 2013 SSD was the main issue of this appeal. When the Defendant received this check, she preemptively acted to prevent the Plaintiff from receiving a credit against his future child support obligations, arguing to the court that the previous credits provided the Plaintiff with windfalls. The Plaintiff cross-moved to have the full amount credited to his child support obligation. The Motion judge seemed to ignore the credit from the 2009 SSD check in his calculations and found that prior to the 2013 SSD check the Plaintiff had an existing arrears of $11,921.00. After applying the 2013 SSD check, the court found that the Plaintiff still owed $625.00 in arrears and the court applied the entire 2013 SSD check to the Plaintiff’s arrears instructing probation to “verify and adjust accounts accordingly.” Unfortunately, the court’s Order did not direct the probation department to disregard to credit from the 2009 SSD check and it simply credited the 2013 SSD check to the Plaintiff’s account. Therefore, the Plaintiff netted a credit of $10,935.97 toward future child support payments. The Defendant appealed. According to the Appellate Division, the propriety of a child support credit for SSD benefits paid to a child depends upon the equities of the case. Diehl v. Diehl, 389 N.J. Super. 443, 449, 913 A.2d 803 (App. Div. 2006). The source and purpose of SSD benefits for dependents are relevant to the equities. Id. The courts have generally credited SSD benefit payments against child support where the “credit is sought against support obligations contemporaneous with benefit payments.” Id. SSD benefits that exceed the rate of child support are gratuity to the child and should not be credited. Id. at 450. However, the supporting parent does not need to carry an arrears balance to receive a credit for retroactive SSD payments. Id. In this case, the benefits paid to the child never exceeded the Plaintiff’s child support obligation over the periods of time at issue. Therefore, the court could discern no error in crediting of any SSD payments against the child support obligation. Therefore, this part of the Order was affirmed. If you anticipate that it may be beneficial to you to seek a modification of your child support obligation it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about child support, alimony, divorce, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.