How a divorce affects your disability payments depends on whether you were receiving disability benefits on your spouse's earnings record (dependent benefits), on your own Social Security work record, or through the SSI program.
SSI Disability Benefits
If you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits, your payments may actually increase when you divorce. This is because SSI is a need-based benefit. Your eligibility for SSI and the amount of your monthly SSI check is calculated on the amount of resources available to you, including a portion of your spouse’s income and contribution towards your living expenses.
Keep in mind, though, that if you are awarded spousal support (alimony) following your divorce, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider this amount as part of your countable, unearned income toward the SSI limit to determine if your payment amount should change.
Be sure to report your divorce (and any remarriages to Social Security) so the agency can recalculate your SSI benefits.
SSDI on Your Own Work Record
If you receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI, or SSD) based on your own work history, your payments will not be affected by your divorce because the amount of the disability payment is dependent on your work history alone, and not your spouse’s.
However, if you receive SSDI and you are ordered to pay alimony or child support following a divorce, a portion of your disability benefits may be garnished to satisfy those obligations. For more information, see our article on garnishment of disability benefits after divorce.
Whether your Social Security dependents benefits will be affected by your divorce depends on the type of benefits you are receiving.
If you were receiving a spouse's benefit while you were married (because you were 62 years old or older), this payment should not stop when you get divorced unless:
- you were married for ten years or less
- you get remarried, or
- you become entitled to a larger Social Security benefit under your own work record.
Divorced Spouse's Benefit
If you weren't receiving a spouse's Social Security benefit, you may be able to start collecting dependent Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s Social Security work record if you meet the following criteria:
- you were married to your former spouse for at least ten years
- you are at least 62 years old
- you are unmarried, and
- you are not entitled to a larger benefit under your own Social Security record.
These benefits, of course, are only available if your former spouse qualifies for SSDI disability benefits or retirement benefits. If your ex-spouse has not yet applied for Social Security benefits, you are still eligible to receive dependents benefits as long as it has been at least two years since your divorce and you and your ex-spouse are at least 62 years old.
Mother's or Father's Benefit
Mother's and father's benefits do not depend on whether you remain married to a disabled or retired spouse who is receiving Social Security benefits. Nor will getting remarried later affect your right to mother's or father's benefits. Here's how you can qualify for these benefits:
- you care for a child age 0-16 of the spouse or ex-spouse who qualifies for SSDI, or
- (and if the disabled child is over age 22, the child must have been disabled since before age 22).
Divorced Spouse's Survivors Benefit
If your ex-spouse dies, you may still be eligible for disability benefits if he or she was fully insured for Social Security benefits and you meet the following requirements:
- you were married to your ex-spouse for at least ten years
- you are at least 60 years old, or at least 50 years old and disabled
- you are not entitled to a larger benefit under your own Social Security record, and
- you have not remarried.
Note that if you remarried after the age of 60, or after the age of 50 and were disabled at the time of the remarriage, the SSA will disregard the marriage and you will still be eligible for benefits as long as the other above requirements are met. For more information, see our article on survivors benefits for divorced spouses.
What Happens to My Dependents Benefits If I Remarry?
If your Social Security benefits were based on your ex-spouse’s work history and you remarry, your benefits will generally be discontinued, unless your second or subsequent marriage ends by death, divorce, or annulment (or, if your ex-spouse has died and your remarriage occurs after a certain age, as discussed above).
However, if your new spouse is eligible for certain auxiliary Social Security benefits or survivor’s benefits, your benefits may be continued.
If you remarry and your former spouse is receiving benefits based on your work record, your ex’s benefits will not change, nor will benefits available to your other eligible dependents be affected.
For more information on all of these benefits, see our article on Social Security dependents' benefits.