Getting divorced can have a wide range of effects on your life and finances – including any government benefits you currently receive for a long-term disability. Your marital status may impact Social Security disability benefits in unexpected ways. Being prepared for what comes next can help you handle your divorce in a way that protects your financial future as much as possible.
How Are You Receiving Your Disability Payment?
How a divorce might impact your long-term disability payment depends on if you are receiving these benefits through your spouse’s work record, your own Social Security work record or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits program. This distinction is important, as you could receive a higher or lower amount in disability benefits based on the type.
Your Spouse’s Work Record
If you receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you will need to know which work record the Social Security Administration (SSA) used to calculate your payments. If it was based on your spouse’s work history, earning record or disability, your payments may change after you get divorced. These are known as spousal or auxiliary benefits, and they allow you to receive disability payments since your spouse qualifies.
If your marriage lasted for at least 10 years, you will keep your spousal disability benefits after a divorce. Your current SSDI payments will continue until you get remarried. If you become eligible for a substantially larger disability payment from the SSA based on your own work record or disability, however, you can apply for greater benefits. Unfortunately, if you were married for less than 10 years, you may lose your auxiliary SSDI benefits after a divorce.
Your Own Work Record
If you were working for many years before you suffered a disability, your SSDI benefits may be based on your own work record. In this case, your benefit amount should not change if you get a divorce. The SSA will only recalculate your long-term disability payments if the courts garnish your wages for payments owed to your ex-spouse, such as child support.
Supplemental Security Income
If you are being paid through the Supplemental Security Income program, these benefits could actually increase after your divorce. SSI is a need-based federal program where the benefits are calculated based on the financial resources available to the applicant, including how much your spouse made during your marriage and the contribution of their income toward your living expenses.
If your divorce leads to a decrease in your household’s income or you have to give assets to your spouse in the divorce, your disability benefits might increase. If your divorce leads to an increase in your income, on the other hand, you might experience a decrease in your SSI benefits. If you are receiving child support or alimony since your divorce, for example, the SSA may calculate a lower amount based on your new income.
Social Security Retirement Benefits
If you are at least 62 years old, you and your ex-spouse were married for at least 10 years, and your own Social Security record does not entitle you to a larger benefit, you will be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits through your former spouse. Even if your ex-spouse has not yet applied for Social Security retirement benefits, you can receive this payment if you have been divorced for at least 2 years and you are both 62 years old. You do not need to get permission from your ex-spouse to use his or her work record for these benefits.
Do You Have to Divide Your Disability Payment in a Divorce?
During a divorce case in California, a couple must divide their assets. If they cannot divide their marital property on their own, the courts will divide everything down the middle (50/50), as it is a community property state. In general, Social Security disability benefits are not classified as marital property for divorce purposes. It is separate property that will not be divided in a divorce. However, if SSDI payments were deposited into a joint account, this could result in a 50/50 split. Speak to a divorce attorney about how your disability benefits might be divided in this scenario.