Court Cannot Order Parent to Name Social Security Payee

Close up of stack of Social Security Cards

In a case of first impression in Colorado, the Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether a trial court can order a parent to designate the other parent as representative payee of his Social Security benefits (specifically, SSDI), as part of a court order.

Colorado law on treatment of Social Security payments in a child support or maintenance case is a complicated mess! As we discuss in our blog post, and in our Colorado Family Law Guide article, whether (and how) Social Security is treated as income depends not just upon who receives the payments (custodial parent, non-custodial parent, or child), and the type of payment at issue.

Given the complexities of Social Security, it is not surprising that trial courts too can get confused. In a recent case, the Court of Appeals stepped in to provide some clarity to us.

In E.Q.1In the Interest of E.Q. & J.Q., 2020 COA 118., a father who was receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments was incarcerated for sexually assaulting the parties’ daughter. The Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a dependency & neglect case petition in the juvenile court, and the mother filed a separate allocation of parental responsibilities case.

The parties stipulated in the juvenile court that mother would be the children’s custodian and have sole decision-making, while child support would be handled by the domestic relations court (where the mother had filed her APR case), not the juvenile court where the DHS case was pending. At a hearing, the trial judge adopted the stipulation, except that with respect to child support, the judge ordered the father to turn over his last three months of SSDI payments, plus restore the mother as his payee for future benefits. The father appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed.

Colorado Child Support Guidelines Apply to Juvenile Cases

The appellate court first held that despite a dependency & neglect proceeding is filed under Title 19 of the Colorado Statutes, when determining child support the trial judge is still required to follow the requirements of Colorado’s child support statute, C.R.S. 14-10-115.

Social Security & Child Support

The Children’s Code (Title 19) has its mini child support statute, C.R.S. 19-4-116, which in subsection 6 contains a list of factors the trial court is required to consider when determining child support, such as the child’s needs, the parties’ financial circumstances, the standards of living, etc. Among these factors are “the child support guidelines, as set forth in section 14-10-115.” Given that C.R.S. 19-4-116(1)(c) explicitly states that the child support statute applies to juvenile proceedings, the E.Q.2In the Interest of E.Q. & J.Q., 2020 COA 118, ¶ 24. court ruled that juvenile courts handling Title 19 cases must follow the child support statute.

For more information on Colorado’s child support guidelines, see our Child Support Basic Obligation article in the Colorado Family Law Guide.

State Court Cannot Assign Social Security Benefits

The main issue in contention was whether the trial judge erred in ordering the incarcerated parent to designate the other parent as his SSDI payee. Per the federal Social Security Act, a disabled person may receive SSDI benefits. 42 U.S. Code 423(a)(1). But while they count as income for child support purposes, and may be garnished to enforce child support, “no provision of the SSA permits a state court to determine who should serve as the representative payee.” E.Q,3In the Interest of E.Q. & J.Q., 2020 COA 118, ¶ 31.

The Court of Appeals reversed, and remanded to the trial court to determine support consistent with the Colorado child support guidelines.

Jurisdiction Over Child Support.

A somewhat technical side-issue arose over the jurisdiction of the juvenile court (which was handling the DHS case) to resolve child support, given that the judge adopted the parties’ stipulation providing that it would be handled in the separate parenting case. While the Father objected to the juvenile court exercising jurisdiction over child support, given the parties’ stipulation that it would be handled by the domestic relations court, the court rejected that aspect of his appeal, noting that C.R.S. 19-1-104(6) authorizes a court in a dependency & neglect proceeding to address “parenting time and child support matters.”

Despite the parties’ agreement, the juvenile court judge still had jurisdiction to resolve child support, as “parties may not preclude or limit the court’s authority concerning child support.” E.Q.4In the Interest of E.Q. & J.Q., 2020 COA 118 ¶ 13. However, the appellate court determined that ordering the father to release his SSDI payments (as child support) was inconsistent with the juvenile court adopting the stipulation that support would be handled by the domestic relations court instead.

Award-Winning Child Support Lawyers in Colorado Springs

U.S. News & World Report calls Graham.Law one of the Best Law Firms in America, and our managing partner is a Colorado Super Lawyer. Our family law attorneys have years of experience helping clients navigate the Colorado legal system. We know Colorado divorce & family law inside and out, from complex multi-million dollar property or child custody cases to basic child support modifications.

For more information about our top-rated El Paso County family law firm, contact us by filling out the form on the right or calling us at (719) 630-1123 to set up a free consult, or click on:

Colorado Family Law. Period.

Testimonials

  • Excellent discussion; fully answered all my questions with examples I could clearly understand

    Jane Rohr Avatar
    Jane Rohr
    3/26/2020
  • Carl Graham is by far the best divorce attorney I have used and would highly recommend him to anyone who is looking for an ethical, knowledgable, fair attorney. My case was not your normal circumstanc... read more

    Gary Oldguy Avatar
    Gary Oldguy
    3/17/2020
  • As a former military spouse trying to collect my share of my ex's military retirement from California when the divorce decree and all the supporting documents were filed in Colorado i was apprehensive... read more

    Janine Pandher Avatar
    Janine Pandher
    3/01/2020
  • Where do I begin? Well AFTER have a consultation with another attorney ( who made me feel as though i was undeserving of his expertise) I was extremely apprehensive when coming to Graham Law. This was... read more

    Chris Whitfield Avatar
    Chris Whitfield
    2/07/2020
  • Mr. Carl Graham, Cindi (his paralegal), and the rest of his office staff helped us with a military divorce. Mr. Graham is very knowledgeable about military ways and processes. I appreciated the fact... read more

    Shelle Dier Avatar
    Shelle Dier
    1/08/2020
  • If you are searching for a divorce lawyer, first I would like to say I’m sorry you are going through this. It isn’t and easy road. I know sometimes things just don’t work out to save your marriage. Ho... read more

    Trevor Lisby Avatar
    Trevor Lisby
    11/26/2019
  • If you are searching for a divorce lawyer, first I would like to say I’m sorry you are going through this. It isn’t and easy road. I know sometimes things just don’t work out to save your marriage. Ho... read more

    Trevor Lisby Avatar
    Trevor Lisby
    10/30/2019
  • I called Graham law firm to schedule a consultation and spoke with Corinna. When beginning your search for information with any family matters there are many questions and a sense of anxiety of the u... read more

    Kathlena Williams Avatar
    Kathlena Williams
    8/26/2019
  • I was divorced in CO but moved to TX & had issues with my divorce decree from a previous attorney- after referrals from several other firms in CO regarding the best military law firm I went with Graha... read more

    Sarah DeLorean Avatar
    Sarah DeLorean
    8/26/2019
  • Very helpful initial meeting.

    Steven Babbitt Avatar
    Steven Babbitt
    6/26/2019
  • Carl and his team are awesome and super easy to work with. His knowledge is tremendous and he quickly handled my case despite me being across the country. I would do business with his team again and... read more

    Michael Brooks Avatar
    Michael Brooks
    5/26/2019
  • I was impressed by Graham Law in general but most impressed with Brian Boney. Brian is an excellent family law attorney. Attentive, detail-oriented, and hard-working, Brian surpassed my expectations f... read more

    Robert Weeks Avatar
    Robert Weeks
    5/26/2019
  • Mr. Grahm was professional, knowledgable and very prepared. He was also kind and understanding. He knew his military in's and outs. Because of this is got exactly what I was asking for... a swift a... read more

    MAMCO STAFF Avatar
    MAMCO STAFF
    4/26/2019
  • I had the unpleasant task of taking my ex back to court. Carl was the person for the job. His attention to detail and professionalism got me the result I needed. Sincere thanks to Carl and his great s... read more

    Lisa Bruinsma Avatar
    Lisa Bruinsma
    4/26/2019
  • This firm is quite wonderful....very family and military oriented. Compassionate and patient, very understanding and will go to bat for you!!!!! Give them a call!!!!!

    Teresa Wilkie Avatar
    Teresa Wilkie
    4/26/2019
  • Brian did an amazing job helping me with a personal matter! Its not the first time I ask Brian for help, and every time he exceeds my expectations! Thank you for your kindness, understanding and suppo... read more

    Iryna Volynets Avatar
    Iryna Volynets
    4/26/2019
  • Divorce is never easy, but Carl and his warm team helped me navigate this very difficult time. This was a military divorce, so Carl's expertise helped me understand exactly what my options were as a f... read more

    Kara Longmire Avatar
    Kara Longmire
    4/26/2019
  • I have had two occasions that I have needed Carl Graham's assistance with child support issues and both times Mr. Graham and his team were amazing. Mr. Graham is straight forward and honest. I highly ... read more

    Jason Ragland Avatar
    Jason Ragland
    4/26/2019
  • Can't thank the team enough.

    Kevin Czarnecki Avatar
    Kevin Czarnecki
    4/26/2019
  • Very professional and extremely supportive throughout my needs.

    Doyle McNeil Avatar
    Doyle McNeil
    4/26/2019

Contact