During the divorce litigation process, it is common for a spouse to claim disability and say that they are no longer able to work. When this happens, the other spouse could get hit with hefty spousal support calculations. If this is your situation, you can take steps to determine the legitimacy of a disability claim and form accurate calculations based on professional evaluations of the situation.
What Factors Are Cause for Claiming Disability?
Someone can claim disability when he or she has a physical or mental ailment preventing them from performing their job properly. This could be a temporary issue such as a broken bone or a long-term disease. The spouse claiming disability must prove his or her condition is valid and it makes them unable to work. If the condition limits the party’s ability to do the work they previously did, they must also prove they are unfit for other jobs.
How Can You Assess the Claimed Disability?
Most people do not want to doubt the veracity of someone else’s medical condition, but, when it comes to matters of paying the proper spousal support amount, verifying the legitimacy of an ailment becomes important. Some conditions are hard to prove, such as anxiety and depression. Other injuries can prevent a spouse from working jobs with heavy labor but do not disqualify them from obtaining a desk position. Courts use an independent medical examination and vocational evaluation to confirm the condition of the affected spouse.
Conduct an Independent Medical Examination
Courts rely on independent medical examination (IME) for workers’ compensation cases to evaluate the severity of an injury or condition. A doctor, therapist or other specialized medical professional performs an examination of the affected site or issue and gives an official opinion determining whether the examined party can work and what, if any, limitations exist. The doctor performing the IME should not be someone the examined party has seen before to make the evaluation as objective as possible.
Conduct a Vocational Evaluation
Following the delivery of the IME report, a vocational evaluation might also be necessary. A Vocational Evaluator will use the medical limitation suggestions from the IME to determine the ability to function properly and perform the requested duties at work. This is different from the IME because the evaluator is a specialist in the vocation rather than the medical condition.
What Happens to Existing Disability Benefits After a Divorce?
If a spouse was collecting disability benefits prior to a divorce, it is possible that the monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) could increase. The courts include your spouse’s income in the calculations that determine the monthly SSI amount you receive. Without that income, the Social Security Administration will take the divorce into account. Keep in mind, however, if you receive spousal support after the divorce, the amount might not change. In some cases, the courts may garnish the disability benefits someone expects after the divorce to cover spousal or child support costs.
The law does not consider the SSI benefits someone acquires during the marriage as marital property, meaning they belong to the party with the disability. If the government deposited the benefits into a separate account during the marriage and are separate from other joint holdings, they can be excluded from the asset division process. If the government deposited the funds in a co-mingled account, they are typically split between the two spouses.
If your spouse claims disability during the divorce process, remember that there is a system in place to verify the validity of the disability and its effect on your spouse’s ability to work. If you are concerned about what will happen to your own disability benefits when the divorce is finalized, remember your payments could potentially increase if you are honest with the Social Security Administration about the state of your marriage.