Is Social Security Disability Money Considered Marital Property in Michigan Divorce Cases?

by Melanie Jo Triebel

    Social Security disability benefits are paid by the federal government to former workers who have become disabled. Depending upon such factors as the length of the marriage and when the benefits were received, these funds may be considered marital or separate property in a Michigan divorce. The right to receive Social Security benefits in the future can also impact other aspects of a Michigan divorce case.

    Disability Benefits as Marital Property

    In Michigan, the ongoing right to receive Social Security disability payments is not considered marital property, so the court will not divide these benefits between the parties or order that some portion of each future disability check be paid to the other spouse. Disability benefits that were received during the marriage, however, are considered marital property. As with other forms of marital property, Michigan divorce courts will divide these funds equitably between the parties.

    Equitable Division

    Social Security disability benefits received during the marriage, along with other marital property, will be fairly divided between the divorcing spouses. This does not mean, however, that the division will be equal. The court will consider factors such as the cause of the divorce, who initially acquired the property, the length of the marriage, and which spouse has the greater need, including whether one spouse is disabled and unable to work.

    Separate Spousal Benefits

    Although one spouse's ongoing disability benefits are not marital property to be divided up or awarded to the other spouse by the divorce court, the non-disabled spouse may be able to obtain his own benefits directly from the federal government. If the marriage lasted at least 10 years, and other legal prerequisites are met, a divorced person may qualify for her own Social Security disability and retirement benefits based upon the work history of her ex-spouse.

    Other Implications

    Although the ongoing right to disability payments is not marital property, it can and does impact other aspects of the divorce. The court will consider a spouse's right to receive Social Security disability payments as a form of income and part of that spouse's financial condition. As a result, the right to disability payments can influence such things as how the judge divides marital property and whether spousal support or child support is ordered and in what amount.

    About the Author

    Melanie Jo Triebel has been writing since 2003. Her articles have appeared in such publications as the "ARIAS U.S. Quarterly" and the "Sidley Reinsurance Law Report." Triebel holds a B.A. in music from Chapman University and a J.D. from the Chapman University School of Law. She has practiced law for nearly a decade and is licensed in California and Illinois.

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