The relationship of parent to child is the determining factor when decisions are being made as to whether a child is eligible for a payment from the Social Security Administration. The child could be eligible for payments whether a marriage between the two parents is ongoing or has ended.
If the child is disabled, however, determinations will have to be made concerning what individual is actually to receive the Social Security payments. This is generally determined by actual custody or legal responsibility for the child. For example, if the non-custodial parent is eligible for Supplemental Security Income, the custodial parent should be the one receiving the child benefit check.
This does not just apply for children. It can also apply for disabled adults where representative payees may be appointed by the SSA. This also does not mean that these representative payees are the same as guardians or individuals who have power of attorney to make certain decisions for the disabled person. Per decisions made by the Treasury Department, federal payments like SSI are not dependent upon power of attorney documents and will not look towards such documents for deciding where the payments need to be sent.
While SSI and Social Security disability insurance are not the same things, there must be a determination of disability before benefits can be paid under either of these programs. SSI is for individuals totally disabled who do not have the financial means to keep them out of destitution. However, the receipt of child support will not disqualify an individual from receiving SSI.
Source: Farm Forum, “Children don’t have to live at home to receive benefits,” Howard I. Kossover, April 25, 2014