Facts: Father was ordered to pay $350 each month to pay down his child support arrearage.
A few years later, Mother petitioned to have Father held in civil contempt for failing to pay the arrearage as ordered.
After a hearing, the trial court found Father was “completely disabled and unable to work” and had been approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The arrearage was determined to be $16,753 and subject to post-judgment interest of 12%. Father was directed to pay all of his monthly SSI benefit to satisfy the child support arrearage.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Father argued the trial court erred by ordering him to pay his SSI benefits toward the child support arrearage.
It is well settled in Tennessee that SSI benefits are not subject to legal process for payment of court-ordered child support.
Implicit in the SSI program is the intention that these payments are for the benefit of the individual recipient, rather than for the benefit of the recipient and the recipient’s dependents.
By contrast, Social Security disability benefits, which are determined on the basis of wages and self-employment income of the insured, do benefit the dependent children of the insured individual. In fact, children of individuals entitled to disability insurance benefits receive a separate payment which increases after the death of the insured and which may extend until the child reaches the age of nineteen.
Thus, as a matter of federal law, the end result is that disability benefits can be garnished but SSI payments cannot.
Based on the foregoing, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment finding a child support arrearage but reversed that portion of the judgment attaching Father’s SSI benefits for payment. The case was remanded to the trial court for removal of the attachment.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.