In a recent decision of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, in Holeck v. Beyel, 145 A.D.3d 1600, 43 N.Y.S.2d 816, the court upheld a direction to a disabled father (the non-custodial parent) to apply to the Social Security Administration to change representative payee of the children’s social security disability (SSD) benefits from the father to the custodial mother. The appellate court also upheld the denial of the father’s request for a reduction in his support obligation by virtue of his loss of the SSD benefits for the children.

Generally, when a disabled parent is qualified for Social Security disability benefits, the children may also qualify to receive benefits on the disabled parent’s work-record. Eligible children can be a biological, adopted or stepchildren. Normally, benefits stop when the child reaches age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child at age 18 is still a full-time student at a secondary (or elementary) school, benefits will continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first.

The Fourth Department noted in a child support matter, the trial court has the discretion to consider everything available to support the child. Here, it was determined that the needs of the children would be best served by having the mother, who had primary physical custody, receive directly the SSD benefits for the children.

In 1996 it was held by the Court of Appeals in Matter of Graby v Graby (87 N.Y.2d 605), that Social Security payments received for the benefit of the child of a disabled parent are not to be included as the income of either parent when making calculations under the C.S.S.A. child support formula. Rather such payments are treated as resources of the child, to be considered only to determine whether the parents’ support obligations determined under the formula is unjust or inappropriate. Moreover, Social Security disability benefits paid to a child on the basis of a non-custodial parent’s disability are not to be credited against that parent’s child support obligation.

Here, moreover, the appellate court concluded that because the father failed to establish that he had previously used the payments for the benefit of the children, the Support Magistrate did not err when directing that the father pay to the mother the benefits he received after the mother filed her petition. Such post-petition benefits were not to be considered support arrears. Rather, appellate court validated that the Support Magistrate properly directed the father to provide the mother with funds that were for the children’s social security payment that the father received which he neither gave to the mother, nor used for the children’s benefit.

The father’s request for a reduction of his child support obligation was properly rejected. The father requested that reduction after the mother became the payee for the children’s SSD benefits. The father contended that he would be receiving less income due to the change in payee.

However, it is well settled that:

although a dependent child’s Social Security benefits are derived from the disabled parent’s past employment, they are designed to supplement existing resources, and are not intended to displace the obligation of the parent to support his or her children.

Therefore, the fact that the Support Magistrate directed the father to request that the Social Security Administration designate the mother as the children’s representative payee, together with the father’s resulting loss of the use of that money, did not provide a basis for a downward modification of the father’s child support obligation.

  • Bob

    In the Holeck Vs Beyel case the mother did not have primary physical custody. She and the father had joint custody of the children.

    • Neil Cahn

      The comment author identifies himself as Sean Beyel, the father, and notes, “The basis for my comment is our custody order that states we have joint custody. No other form of custody is mentioned in the custody order.”