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# 41 - Social Security as Life Insurance for Child Support

Monograph # 41                                                             December, 2005

Life insurance as "security" for a child support obligation?
Wait a sec..... What about SOCIAL SECURITY "life insurance"??

© Lawrence D. Gorin, Attorney at Law, Portland, Oregon


    I often wonder why we focus on making sure that a child support obligor "obtains or maintains" life insurance through life insurance policies (often in amounts far more than the projected future amount of the court-ordered obligation) in cases where the obligor already has adequate (if not more so) life insurance coverage in place through Social Security Surviving Child's Benefits.

    All too often we fail to remember that the federal Social Security program is not only a pension/retirement/disability insurance program but is also a LIFE  INSURANCE program (for which the child support obligor is already making payments).

Surviving child's Social Security insurance benefit

    Social Security surviving children's benefits can be paid to unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 if they are attending high school full time. The amount the surviving child's insurance benefit rate is three-fourths (75%) of the deceased parent’s primary insurance amount.

    When there are multiple children involved, a "family maximum" becomes applicable. The limit varies, but is generally between 150 and 180 percent of the deceased’s benefit amount. But even then, in many cases the Social Security survivor benefits for the children will be more than the amount of child support ordered by the state court's support judgment.

Go to and read what our government is telling us.......

"Life insurance" from Social Security ---
    Many people think of Social Security only as a retirement program. But some of the Social Security taxes you pay go toward providing survivors insurance for workers and their families. In fact, the value of the survivors insurance you have under Social Security is probably more than the value of your individual life insurance.

    Practice tip:   If representing the obligor parent, always obtain from your client a copy of your client's most recent annual Social Security Benefit Statement, which is sent each year to every worker age 25 or older. The Statement gives an estimate of survivors' benefits that could be paid in the event of the worker's death. (In many cases, you will be surprised at how much it is!)

Surviving divorced mother’s Social Security insurance benefit

    All too often forgotten or unrealized is the Social Security “Surviving Divorced  Mother's (Or Father's) Insurance Benefit.”  In essence, Social Security will pay a “Surviving Divorced Mother's (or Father’s) Insurance Benefit” when a covered worker dies being survived by:
    (1)  a child who is under age 16 (or disabled); and
    (2)  the child is entitled to a surviving child's insurance benefit based on the deceased worker's earnings record; and
    (3)  the child is in the care of the deceased worker's surviving divorced spouse; and
    (4)  the surviving divorced spouse is the child's parent; and
    (5)  the surviving divorced spouse is unmarried (and remains so).

    The Surviving Divorced Mother's or Father Insurance Benefit is equal to threefourths (75%) of the deceased worker's primary insurance amount (subject to reduction if the family maximum applies). And --- get this --- the Surviving Divorced Mother's or Father Insurance Benefit is IN ADDITION to the Surviving Child’s Insurance Benefit.

    I was involved in a case a few years back involving a divorced father, obligated to pay $500 p/m child support for the parties' only child, who was two years old at the time of the divorce.  Father died a few years later,  when the child was age 9.  Surviving divorced mother then became entitled to a Social Security surviving divorced mother's benefit of $865 p/m, and --- IN ADDITION --- also received the surviving child's benefit of $865 p/m, for a total of $1,730 p/m.  Obviously, father was worth far more to mother dead than alive.  (She later commented: "He's just damn lucky I didn't realize that when we got divorced!")

Want more info?

See sections 416 to 420 in The Social Security Handbook at:

By the way......there is no problem with a parent who elects (or agrees) to provide life insurance, regardless of amount, above and beyond what will automatically be provided by Social Security. Indeed, it is often a very good and prudent idea.  My concern is with court-compelled obligations for life insurance (and the court's authority to so order).  ORS 107.810 authorizes the court to order a support obligor to provide life insurance "adequate to provide for the continued support of those persons [entitled to support] in the event of the obligor’s death."  But if the Social Security life insurance is by itself adequate, what is the basis for a judge ordering more than is adequate?

Final thoughts

    There is no problem with a support obligor being required to maintain life insurance in an amount "adequate" to cover the loss of child support that would occur in the event of obligor's death at a time when the child is a "child attending school" (since Social Security would not provide benefits for that period of time, except for the time when child is under age 19 and still in high school).  Suppose dad, as required by court order, has the $150,000 life insurance in place and dad dies when kid is 17 years 11 months old, with only one more monthly installment of support being due? Social Security will then kick in and provide benefits so long as child is under age 18 (or under 19 and full-time in high school).  But the stated policy of ORS 107.810 is simply to assure the adequate continuation of the support obligation in the event of the obligor's death, not to provide a windfall profit. So why the need for $150,000?


Attorney at Law
6700 S.W. 105th Ave., Suite 104
Beaverton, Oregon 97008
Phone: 503-716-8756
Fax: 503-646-1128