Disabled Spouses and Child or Spousal Support / by Cassandra Hearn

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During a divorce, separation, or child custody action, a trial court must make a decision regarding child support and in some cases, also spousal support.  These financial issues can be at the very center of many family law cases, and are require serious consideration.  The larger the income disparity between the two parties, often the higher the award of support.  Where one party has a drastically reduced or even no earning capacity because of a disability, this will almost certainly impact the final award of support.

In California, child support is based on a very specific calculation.  Child support attorneys will use a special calculator called the Dissomaster to calculate a parent’s child support obligation.  The income of both parties is relevant to the final child support amount.  When one of the parents has a diagnosed disability, the question may very well become what is considered income for child support purposes.  If the disabled spouse receives benefits from the Social Security Administration, it is essential to determine what type of benefits the spouse receives before this question can be answered.  Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) is different than Social Security Disability (“SSDI”).  SSI requires that the recipient prove a disability plus a need for the benefits.  SSDI, on the other hand, requires only a showing of disability.  The amount of benefits received will depend on the amount of benefits the parent has already paid in to Social Security.  For income determination purposes for child support, SSI is not considered part of a parent’s income, but SSDI may be.  Of note is that it may be possible for a child to be awarded benefits directly from the Social Security Administration based on a parent’s SSI or SSDI.

Spousal support is a different situation.  There is no calculator for permanent spousal support in California, and there are a variety of factors that a court may weigh when determining the amount and duration of support to award.  One of the very important factors in this test is the financial need of the receiving spouse, including examining the income of the spouse.  There is no law preventing the court from considering SSI or SSDI as income when determining a spouse’s income for spousal support purposes.  However, a spouse’s particular disability and perhaps the degenerative nature of their condition could be relevant.

Child support and spousal support are highly fact specific. You need an experienced attorney to help you with these issues. Contact us today at 619-800-0384 to discuss your case and your support.