When a Family Member Stops Getting Social Security, Do Others' Benefits Change?

Question:

I'm on disability. I pay $100 out of my SSDI benefit to child support to my first wife for my 17 year old daughter, plus she gets a $222 benefit from Social Security. I get around $1,700 a month; my current wife gets $222 for her and $222 for our son and $222 for her daughter (my stepdaughter). Close to $2,400 for us and $322 to my ex-wife and daughter.

When my daughter turns 18 she comes off Social Security. What happens to that money? Also, if anything happens to my wife or stepdaughter (say a divorce or custody change), what happens then?

Answer:

When your daughter turns 18, she will stop receiving money from Social Security. Your benefit will not go up, but your wife, son and stepdaughter's benefits could go up, because at that point there would be $888 to split between three people. This is because there is a "family maximum benefit," which is generally 150%-180% of your primary insurance amount, to be shared among a disabled individual and his or her family members.

Say your individual benefit is actually $1,776; your family members would have to split half of that, or $888. Your individual benefit and your dependents' benefits would total $2,664 ($1,776 + $888), or 150% of $1,776. (For more information on the calculations, see our article on Social Security's family maximum benefit.)

Now let's look at your second question. If your current wife were to become your ex-wife, your stepdaughter would stop receiving benefits due to the divorce. Your ex-wife would receive benefits as a divorced spouse only if you had been married for 10 years and she is over 61 or she is still taking care of your son and he is under 16. There are several possibilities here.

  • If your then ex-wife is still taking care of your son, your ex-wife, your son and your daughter would split the $888 (if your daughter has not yet turned 18, or hasn't turned 19 if she's still in high school).
  • If your daughter has turned 18, or 19 if she's still in high school (let's assume this from here on), and your then ex-wife is still taking care of your son, your ex-wife and your son would split $888.
  • If your then ex-wife doesn't qualify for any benefit because your son is over 16 and she is under 62, your son would get the entire $888 until age 18 (or age 19 if still in high school).
  • If your then ex-wife doesn't qualify for any benefit because your son is over 16 and she is under 62, and your son has turned 18 (or age 19 if he was still in high school at age 18), neither of them will receive a benefit. The money simply goes back into Social Security coffers.
  • If your then ex-wife were to receive benefits because she is 62 or over, she would be entitled to $888 (perhaps reduced due to early retirement) and your son would be entitled to $888. A divorced wife's retirement benefit isn't subject to the family maximum, and thus doesn't affect other family member's benefit amounts, unless she's taking care of your child who is also receiving a benefit.

An important thing to remember is that whether or not your daughter or ex-wife or current wife or stepdaughter are receiving benefits has no effect on the amount of your benefits. You will never get more than you're getting now, except for annual cost of living increases.

You can read more about spousal benefits in our article on SSDI benefits for spouses and divorced spouses and more about children's benefits in our article on SSDI benefits for children.

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR CLAIM

Get the compensation you deserve.

We've helped 225 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you