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Child Support and SSI

What is Child Support?

For SSI purposes, child support is a payment made by an absent parent to meet a child’s needs. A payment is usually a cash payment, but it can also be in the form of food or shelter assistance.

Who is considered a “child?”

For SSI purposes, a child is:

– OR –

If, under these rules, a person is not considered a child, they are referred to as an “adult child” when looking at child support payments.

A mother holding her curious son.

Are child support payments considered income?

It depends. Social Security will look at several factors when deciding how much of the child support counts as income. These factors include if the person is a child or an adult child, and if payments are for back-due child support (called an “arrearage”). The child support amount that counts as income is considered unearned income when calculating SSI.


When a child is in the custody of the State (for example, foster care), and the State collects child support and keeps the money, the support payment from the parent is not income to the child.

How much of my child support counts as income?

Follow these steps to estimate how much child support will be counted as income. These steps assume that the payments are from an absent parent. This is an estimate only and does not apply to all situations. For a more precise number, we recommend you speak with a benefits planner or Social Security.

Step 1:
Is the child support payment for a person under the age of 18?

If Yes: 2/3rds of the child support payment will count as unearned income to the child.
(Stop here.) 

Teddy is 12 and receives SSI. His mother and father are divorced, and his mother, Eve, lives in a different household. Eve pays Teddy’s father $600 per month in Child Support. Two thirds of that amount – $400 – will count as unearned income when calculating Teddy’s SSI.

If No, continue to Step 2.

Step 2:
Is the child support payment for a person who is:

If you answered Yes to all: 2/3rds of the child support payment will count as unearned income.
(Stop here.)

If you answered No to ANY of these conditions, continue to Step 3

Step 3: Is the child support payment for back-due child support?

Ralph, a father, was unable to make child support payments a few years ago. Ralph has become more financially stable, and he begins paying back-due child support payments to his ex-spouse, even though his daughter is now an adult.

If Yes, continue to Step 4. 

If No: The full child support payment will count as unearned income to the adult child, even if the payment is not going directly to that person.
(Stop here.)

Step 4:
Who received the back-due child support payment – the parent or the adult child?

Step 5:
Did the parent give any of the child support payment to the adult child?

Step 6:
What was the amount given to the adult child?

The amount given is considered unearned income to the adult child.

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