In 1985, my cousin was married in San Diego to a woman he had known for a short time. Unfortunately, his 1st wife left after 18 months, and he has never seen her since then. Thirty years later, my cousin is able to get married to his 2nd wife. He filed for divorce from this 1st wife, and hired investigators to try to locate her. He has not been successful in doing so. My cousin is also disabled, and about to file a concurrent claim for SSDI and SSI. He is concerned that the 1st wife will be entitled to a portion of both of these benefits.
Will my cousin need to pay a portion of the SSDI and SSI benefits that he receives from Social Security, and if so, how much, considering that he will have been legally married to the 1st wife for 30 years? What if he cannot locate her?
From a Social Security law perspective, the length of the marriage would be long enough to potentially entitle the wife to benefits under cousin's earnings record IF her own earnings record would not result in a larger monthly benefit but let me point out a couple things here. First, your cousin is looking at drawing concurrent benefits, which indicates that his own earnings have been relatively low...so he could likewise potentially draw benefits under her earnings record if it results in a larger benefit amount. There are several SSA webpages that discuss all of the possible scenarios and that's something for him to look at. Also, as Mr. Lonetto's response indicates, the spousal benefit for SSA does NOT reduce cousin's own benefits. Second, cousin's plan to marry this second lady will almost certainly affect his SSI benefit so that's another issue he ought to look at closely. Third, there are potential alimony issues here but in most states the fact that cousin is drawing SSI would indicate that he might be the dependent spouse and be the spouse potentially entitled to receive alimony. Fourth, there are no auxiliary/dependent benefits under SSI so neither spouse would get a portion of any SSI money through the other spouse. If cousin is unable to locate this woman, he will likely end up divorcing her by relying on serving her with the divorce suit through publication. If she cannot be found, it would be unlikely that she responds to the suit and makes any claims for marital assets or alimony. I think the focus here for your cousin should be on the divorce and I'm doubtful that he actually ends up paying much of anything to this spouse who disappeared and has now been out of the picture for 30 years, but that's certainly something to discuss with his family law/divorce attorney. I assume that the investigator has already ruled out the possibility that she divorced your cousin long ago, possibly also through service by publication...
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This question is better answered by a divorce attorney. I will reclassify your question. Generally, you're not entitled to any social security benefit unless you apply. Same would go for alimony. If the first wife doesn't ask for it then she won't get it. From a SS perspective, if she could apply for benefits under his SSN, it would not reduce his monthly benefit.
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I agree with Mr. Davis. Perhaps this link will be of value to you: http://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html
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