Divorce and Social Security: What You Need to Know

Social Security cards and assorted cash Concept for social security and divorce.

If you or your spouse depend on government assistance to supplement your income, divorce can substantially affect your ability to pay your bills and meet your family’s needs. When you are faced with divorce and social security questions, you need an attorney who can guide you through the process and protect your access to benefits.

What are Social Security Insurance (SSI) and Social Security Retirement Benefits (SSA)?

Federal social security insurance is a government benefit paid based on a person’s work history and taxes paid on their past income. A person may be eligible for SSI if they:

  • Worked for a minimum number of years in “covered employment” and are at least partially retired at age 62
  • Have been declared partially or fully medically disabled under the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI)
  • Are the spouse or minor or disabled child of a person who qualifies for social security benefits based on work history or disability

The amount the government pays for social security insurance benefits depends on the employee’s work history and their degree of disability. Note that the Social Security disability office has a very strict definition of disability, and many people who are no longer able to work in their field are still required to find replacement employment.

Although a full description of social security retirement benefits is beyond the scope of this post, the main factors in determining the amount of SSA benefits are your employment earnings and the age at which you retire and/or elect to begin collecting. A person who starts receiving benefits at age 62 will receive a reduced monthly payment compared to someone who waits until their full retirement age. This can affect how much you receive as a spouse, even if you have not yet begun receiving benefits yourself.

What Spouses Need to Know About Divorce and Social Security Benefits

While Connecticut courts have broad jurisdiction to allocate assets and income in divorce cases, social security benefits are closely tied to your own health conditions and work history. They are therefore highly personal and it is rare indeed that such assets and income would be directly divided. However, money is fungible, and such income is often a necessary factor in computing support obligations and should be considered in other ways as well.

Can Ex-Spouses Receive Social Security Benefits?

Ex-spouses can still receive social security benefits after divorce based on their ex-spouse’s work history if you can meet certain conditions:

  • Your ex-spouse is eligible to receive benefits
  • You were married for at least 10 years
  • Your spouse was already receiving benefits before the divorce, or
  • You have been divorced for at least 2 years

The 10-year requirement can create problems for couples who are approaching their ten-year anniversary, but contemplating divorce. In these cases, the wage-earning spouse may be motivated to resolve their marriage quickly, while the non-wage-earning spouse may want to wait to enter the final judgment of divorce until after their anniversary so they qualify for social security benefits.

There is little financial reason for the wage-earning spouse to oppose the request to wait. Many people believe that their social security benefits will be reduced if their ex-spouse claims benefits based on their income. This is false. When you claim benefits based on your own income, they are not affected by claims made by beneficiaries including your spouse, ex-spouse, or dependent children.

It is also important to note that your eligibility to receive social security benefits after divorce ends the day you get remarried. This can create an incentive for non-wage-earning ex-spouses to cohabit with their new partners, rather than getting remarried. In some cases, that can affect issues related to spousal support, which can also be affected by remarriage.

How Connecticut Courts Deal with Social Security and Divorce

Connecticut divorce courts don’t treat social security benefits as marital property for purposes of property distribution. That means you won’t be awarded a share of your spouse’s social security benefits. (Though as discussed above, you can receive your own benefits based on your spouse’s work history).

However, there are other ways that social security and divorce interact. When you file for a Connecticut divorce, it is important that you and your attorney discuss the role social security benefits will play in your future income, spousal support, and child support. Your attorney will check your eligibility for social security benefits in connection with filing for divorce, or participating in mediation in order to have all the information when considering how your social security and divorce will interact.

Social Security and Child Support

Note that minor and disabled children are entitled to social security benefits based on their parents’ employment history. In Connecticut, a parent’s own social security benefits are counted as income for the retired or disabled parent when calculating support. They then receive a credit for all dependent benefits paid directly to the child. This means that if a parent receives government benefits, they can also use that eligibility to pay child support. Establishing and collecting these benefits-paid child support payments falls under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. The government-administered Child Support Enforcement Program, called the IV-D program (pronounced Four-D) can help ensure that children are receiving the support they need when government benefits are involved.

Understanding the requirements, and your entitlement to social security benefits after divorce is essential to negotiating a fair settlement, and ensuring you have the support you need after the judgment is final.

The family law attorneys at Lawrence & Jurkiewicz, LLC in Torrington, Connecticut represent divorcing spouses and parents throughout the greater Hartford area and the Litchfield County area. We can help spouses seeking to protect their interests in divorce and social security benefits. We offer consultations by in-person appointment, phone conferences and zoom meetings. Please call us at (860) 264-1551 or contact us to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

Categories: Divorce