iStock-531351317Texas family law considers Social Security disability benefits to be a substitute for the parent’s earnings. Pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code § 157.009, when a child receives a lump-sum payment due to the parent’s disability, the parent is entitled to a credit applied to any arrearage and interest. Additionally, when a trial court applies the child support guidelines to a parent who receives disability benefits, the court must determine how much child support would be ordered under the guidelines then subtract the value of any benefits paid to the child as a result of the parent’s disability.  Tex. Fam. Code § 154.132.

The Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) recently appealed a trial court order applying a lump sum disability payment as a credit to future child support. The trial court signed the parents’ divorce decree in 2016.  The court ordered the father to pay $603.25 in monthly child support.  He filed a petition for modification in 2018, asking the court to modify his child support obligations. The OAG intervened, stating he owed back child support and asking the court to enter judgment for the arrearages and accrued interest.

Father Argues He is Entitled to Future Credit for Disability Payment

The OAG stated in its brief that the father had started receiving Social Security Disability benefits and the children had received a lump sum benefit payment. The OAG contended that amount could only be used as a credit against the father’s arrearage and not for future child support.  The father, however, asked the court to give him a credit against his future obligation.

 

The trial court’s order stated the father was entitled to a credit in the amount of the lump sum toward his arrearage. After applying  the credit to the arrearage, the court’s order stated the father was left “with a child support credit (future pay). . .” in the amount of the surplus.

Office of the Attorney General Appeals

The OAG appealed, arguing the trial court erred in crediting the surplus toward the father’s future obligations.

According to the appeals court, the mother had received the lump-sum disability payment on the children’s behalf.  The appeals court found the trial court had properly applied the payment to the arrearages.  The appeals court further noted that Tex. Fam. Code § 154.132 also applied to modifications of child support. Additionally, courts subtract the amount of a monthly payment by the Social Security Administration from the parent’s monthly child support payment.

Appellate Court Finds that Lump-Sum Payments Can Give Future Credit

The appeals court reasoned that, because Tex. Fam. Code § 154.132 is not limited to monthly disability payments, it also applies to the lump sum payments.  The trial court properly applied the surplus to offset the father’s future obligations.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court.

The OAG cited a previous case in which the appeals court held a trial court could not allow an offset against future payments after a father paid private school tuition. The appeals court distinguished that case because it did not involve disability payments.  The appeals court rejected the OAG’s arguments and affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

This case shows that payments by the Social Security Administration to the child can be credited against the parent’s child support payments.  When you have a child support issue involving disability benefits, you need an experienced Texas child support attorney on your side.  Schedule your consultation with McClure Law Group by calling 214.692.8200.