Whether Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and SSI benefits must be shared between spouses when a marriage ends in Massachusetts is an issue that often comes up during divorce.
There are two issues here: whether disability benefits need to be split when the spouses' property is divided, and whether disability benefits are considered when awarding alimony/spousal support.
Are Disability Benefits Considered a Marital Asset?
The term "marital asset" is used to describe property that was acquired by both parties during the course of the marriage. Marital assets are divided during a Massachusetts divorce follows the principal of equitable division (property is divided "fairly," but not necessarily equally, based on numerous factors as defined by state law.)
SSDI and SSI benefits are awarded special protection from certain civil proceedings under the Social Security Act ("Act"). The Act states that disability benefits are not subject to "levy or attachment." Massachusetts courts have interpreted this to mean that SSDI benefits are not marital property. This means that if a person establishes a bank account that contains only disability benefit proceeds, such as the lump-sum back pay for an SSDI claim, the funds would be excluded from any court-ordered property division.
Are Disability Benefit Payments Considered When Calculating Alimony?
SSDI benefits are generally considered income when determining alimony or spousal support awards. SSI payments are not.
Can My Disability Payments be Garnished to Pay Court-Ordered Alimony?
If you are responsible for court-ordered alimony payments and have won a claim for disability, your SSDI payments can be garnished to satisfy your spousal support obligation. Garnishment is a way to collect money owed on a judgment by ordering the payor (Social Security) to pay the money directly to the person to whom it is owed. This applies to SSDI benefits only, and not to SSI.
Once the agency that oversees alimony payments in Massachusetts is served an order for garnishment or other notice (usually by the party to whom alimony is paid), the agency will send you a copy of the documents within 15 days. Then, within 30 days after the agency was served the order for garnishment, the agency will withhold any available funds needed to comply with the order.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar either through email or telephone 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.