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COURT SAYS IT’S OK TO AWARD CHILD SUPPORT FROM MENTALLY DISABLED MAN EARNING ONLY SSI BENEFITS WHICH ARE EXEMPT FROM SEIZURE

The Social Security Act established SSI to assure a minimum level of income for people age 65 and over who are disabled and do not have sufficient resources to maintain a standard of living. The Social Security Act specifically prevents any person from taking this money. In Barnes v. DHS, No. 2009-CA-00438-SCT (Decided June 3, 2010), the local Chancellor ordered totally disabled Kenny Barnes to pay $100 a month in support out of his monthly SSI payments of $637. Barnes had no other income or assets. Barnes appealed, claiming Federal Law prevented “attachment or garnishment” of his benefits. The Supreme Court agreed holding that Barnes’ SSI could not be subject to garnishment or withholding because such was prohibited by Federal Law. However, the Court stated that Chancellors can calculate support using SSI income as a consideration. The interesting question is that the only way to enforce a support order without attaching, garnishing or withholding is to place the payor in jail for contempt. Does this mean that a totally mentally disabled man who receives only $637 per month in income for his disability is liable to confinement in jail for not paying money which is specifically exempt from seizure?