Divorce and Disability
Recently on our disability forum we had a user ask if she would be getting more money for her disability benefits if she gets a divorce. The answer will depend on whether she is getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
SSDI and Divorce
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is paid to workers who become disabled and cannot work for at least 12 continuous months. To qualify for SSDI You must have worked, earned “work credits” and paid enough in employment taxes to be considered insured.
How are SSDI benefits calculated?
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is based on your average earnings and your payroll tax contribution to Social Security. The more you have paid into Social Security, the more in monthly benefits you may be entitled to receive.
Now, because SSDI is paid based on your own payment record it will not matter how much money your spouse makes, you will be entitled to your full benefit payment. This means that if you are receiving SSDI benefits, whether you are married or not, you are getting all you are entitled to receive. Whether you get divorced or married will have no bearing on your benefit payments.
SSI and Divorce
Supplemental Security Income is provided by the SSA to claimants who are disabled, blind or aged and who do not have the ability to work for at least 12 continuous months. Unlike SSDI, SSI is not based on your work record or how much you paid into the SSA system. It will, however, only be paid to claimants who have VERY limited income and resources.
If you are married and your spouse makes too much money you will not qualify for SSI, even if you are very disabled and you cannot work. Additionally the SSA states, “When a person who is eligible for SSI benefits lives with a spouse who is not eligible for SSI benefits, we may count some of the spouse’s income in figuring the SSI benefits.” This means that if your spouse makes too much money the SSA may “deem” part of your spouse’s income to you, assuming that your spouse will use some of their income to support you.
If you are receiving SSI and your spouse’s income has been deemed to you and your SSI payment has been lowered, if you divorce then your SSI benefit would increase, assuming they are no longer supporting you with their income. If, however, you are still receiving substantial spousal support payments it is likely your payment would not change.
If you are receiving your FULL SSI payment amount then if you divorce your payments will not change because you are already receiving the maximum amount which is paid under SSI.
Reporting changes to the SSA
Changes in marital status including divorce, marriage, death, etc. should be reported to the SSA. Additionally, if you move to a different state this should also be reported. If you fail to report changes to the SSA you could be overpaid or underpaid your SSI benefits.