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I am recently divorced and receive spousal support payments. If I file for social security disability benefits, will the spousal support affect my eligibility or reduce my benefit amount?

The short answer is that your receipt of spousal support will have no effect on receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSD”) benefits but might affect your ability to receive Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) depending on the amount. To fully answer this question, we should review the definition of “disabled” under social security rules, and then distinguish between the two Social Security programs available for disabled individuals.

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) will find an individual “disabled” if he or she is unable to engage substantial gainful activity as a result of a severe impairment, or combination of impairments, for at least 12 months, or the severe impairment is likely to result in death. Additionally, in order to be found “disabled”, an individual must not be able to engage in their past relevant work or other potential employment as a result of the severe impairment.

The SSA offers two disability programs. Claimants are eligible for SSD so long as they are found disabled and have contributed enough credits through social security wage tax deductions. If the claimant has enough credits and is found disabled, he or she will receive a monthly benefit based on the amount of his or her respective contributions. The SSA can tell you whether you have sufficient credits for SSD eligibility. If you do not have sufficient credits through social security wage tax deductions, then you might qualify for SSI.

Claimants found “disabled” are eligible for SSI regardless of whether they have contributed through wage tax deductions, depending on the amount of income/assets available to them. Claimants’ countable resources, including income and assets are taken into consideration when determining SSI eligibility. Some income and some assets are excludable from the countable resources. However, spousal support is considered unearned, countable income under applicable social security rules. Thus, the receipt of spousal support affects one’s eligibility and might reduce the SSI benefit depending on the amount received.

If the spousal support amount place the claimant’s countable resources beyond the acceptable threshold, then the individual will not be eligible for SSI based on having too much income/resources available. If the spousal support does not make the individual ineligible based on countable resources, then the SSI benefit may be reduced depending on the spousal support amount. If the spousal support is negligible, it may have no affect on the SSI benefit. Thus, an individual’s receipt of spousal support may make him or her completely ineligible for SSI, reduce the amount of SSI benefit that individual may receive, or, if the spousal support is negligible, have no effect no the claimant’s eligibility or benefit amount.

By contrast, the receipt of spousal support has no bearing on one’s eligibility for SSD, nor the benefit amount since this income is unearned income. In conclusion, the receipt of spousal support might affect one’s eligibility and/or the amount received under SSI, but has no bearing on one’s eligibility for SSD.

Should you have any questions regarding social security benefits, or if you would like to consult with an attorney, please contact our office.