How Long-Term Disability Affects Child Support and Alimony

If you become disabled, you should be able to get the amount of child support you pay lowered (or raised, if you receive child support).

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If you are receiving long-term disability (LTD) benefits from an LTD insurance policy, it may be difficult for you to meet your child support and alimony obligations. However, it is important that you continue to meet your obligations unless you get a modification from the court. If you are the custodial parent and receiving long-term disability benefits, you may be able to ask the court to increase the amount of child support the non-custodial parent has to pay to you. Alimony, on the other hand, may or may not be able to be modified because of long-term disability, based on the laws of your state.

Child Support

Child support payments are calculated differently in each state. For example, in Maryland, payments are determined using the “shared income” model, which means the children are entitled to the same financial support as if the parents were still married. In a “percentage of income” state, like New York or Texas, payments are calculated using a percentage of each parents’ income, with the higher paid parent bearing greater percentage of the financial responsibility, regardless of whether or not that parent has custody.

If You Fail to Pay Child Support

You cannot simply stop paying child support regardless of how child support is calculated. If you fail to pay court-ordered child support, you face driver’s license suspension, wage garnishment, revocation of your passport, and even jail time. This means that if you find yourself unable to pay child support because of your disability, you must ask the court to modify your child support payments.

Modifications of Child Support by a Disabled Non-Custodial Parent

If you are no longer able to maintain your court-ordered child support payments because you are on long-term disability, you should ask the court to modify your child support obligation. The way this is done varies from state to state, but most courts have “self-help” centers that can assist you. Here are some examples of how long-term disability might affect a non-custodial parent’s child support obligation.

Maryland

Ms. Owens was the non-custodial parent of two minor children. Prior to becoming disabled, she earned $3,000 a month gross. Her former husband, the custodial parent, earned $5,000 a month gross. Ms. Owen’s child support obligation was approximately $595 per month for both children. After becoming injured, Ms. Owen had to quit work and went on long-term disability. Her long-term disability insurance payments were $1,590 a month, which added up to 53% of her prior income. Ms. Owens filed a motion to modify custody, and her support obligation was reduced to $358.

Michigan

Mr. O’Connor was the non-custodial parent of three minor children. Prior to becoming disabled he earned $4,000 a month gross. The gross monthly salary of Ms. O’Connor, the mother who had custody of the children, was $1,500. Based on these figures, Mr. O’Connor’s monthly child support obligation was $1,385. After Mr. O’Connor became injured, however, he went filed a long-term disability insurance claim. His gross monthly income was reduced to $2,120. Based on the decrease in his income, Mr. O’Connor’s obligation was modified to $835 a month.

Remember that these examples show estimates only. You should speak to a lawyer or contact your local court if you have questions.

Modifications of Child Support By the Custodial Parent

If you are the custodial parent and your income decreases because you go on long-term disability, you can ask the court to increase the non-custodial parent’s financial obligation. Here are some examples using the same facts from the examples above.

New Mexico

Mr. Smith, the custodial parent of two minor children, earned $5,000 a month gross. Ms. Smith, the non-custodial parent, earned $3,500 a month and was required to pay $258 a month in child support. After an injury, Mr. Smith went on long-term disability and his income was reduced to $3,000 a month. Mr. Smith filed a motion to modify the child support obligation, and Ms. Smith’s child support obligation increased to $517 a month.

Florida

Ms. Culbertson was the custodial parent of four minor children. She earned $4,500 a month gross. Mr. Culbertson, the non-custodial parent, earned $6,000 a month gross and was obligated to pay $1,899 a month in child support. Ms. Culbertson became ill and began to get long-term disability, so her monthly income was reduced to $2,000. She filed for a modification of child support based on her change in income, and Mr. Culbertson’s child-support obligation was increased to $2,120.

Remember that these examples show estimates only. You should speak to a lawyer or contact your local court if you have questions.

Alimony

The laws regarding whether or not alimony (spousal support) can be modified vary from state to state. Many state divorce laws prohibit modification where the agreement specifically states that the alimony is non-modifiable. This means that unless you can come to an agreement with your ex-spouse, you are unlikely to succeed in asking for a modification based on the long-term disability.

If your settlement agreement doesn’t specifically prohibit the modification of alimony, however, you may be able to ask for a decrease (or increase) in spousal support. Courts will usually consider whether unforeseen circumstances, such as disability or job loss, would create a hardship on the party seeking the modification.

If your settlement agreement contained an “express waiver of alimony” provision, you will probably not be able to ask for alimony regardless of the financial hardship caused by your long-term disability.

State laws differ on alimony and how long-term disability may, or may not affect a person’s right to, or obligation to pay, alimony. You should contact your local courthouse or contact an attorney who specializes in family law if you have specific questions.

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