Unfortunately, the divorce rate for disabled insureds is greater than the 50% cumulative rate for couples in the United States.Those who are most vulnerable in our society are often left behind when non-disabled spouses fail to cope with their care-giving roles. “For better or worse”, often becomes “to hell with this”, and spouses move on to where the grass seems a bit greener.
To be very clear, I am not an attorney and I’m not qualified to give legal advice on divorce matters. However, what I can discuss is what happens when disability issues and benefits are not dealt with directly in the Divorce Settlement Agreement at the time of the divorce. Disability income is often left out of any divorce decree leaving the front door open for an angry spouse to come back at any time seeking more money from the disabled spouse. For some, the divorce never really seems to end as irate spouses seek to make the disabled person “pay” for a very long time.
While all cases are unique to circumstances, the situation usually is that the non-disabled spouse leaves the relationship, but insists on profiting, or taking advantage of the disabled spouse’s benefits in some way. Ex-spouses often declare alimony and child support are necessary since insureds are already receiving monthly disability incomes, and even SSDI dependent money for the children. Other spiteful individuals actually look to attach provisions in the Decree that award them additional money if the disabled spouse “settles the claim in the future.
Let’s face it. In general, most people don’t get divorced in peaceful ways. One of the most unfair situations my clients have encountered is when the non-disabled spouse (a woman) leaves the home and takes the children. She petitions SSA to send her the SSDI Dependent Coverage from her husband’s SSDI even though the father’s disability insurer will continue to offset for the Dependent Award. In addition, the non-disabled spouse will also receive court-ordered child support in the Divorce Decree. What an injustice, since the disabled father is actually paying for his kids TWICE, and has much less money to live on himself.
In my opinion, disabled spouses and their attorneys should consider the following when coming up with final Divorce Decrees:
When non-disabled spouses leave the home and file for divorce, the disabled spouse is left without support – second income, in home assistance, and other care giving resources such as meal preparation and access to mobile movement. Provisions should be made in the Divorce Decree to provide for continuing resources, or alimony to cover the expenses of home health care to replace assistance formerly provided.
Specific provisions should be made in the Divorce Decree stipulating what the custodial spouse should receive for dependent care. Preferably, it should be SSDI Dependent benefits, OR child support, but not both. (Why punish the disabled spouse monetarily for a divorce sought by the non-disabled spouse with children?)
The Divorce Decree should set current and future limits as to what the non-disabled spouse is entitled to resulting from disability benefits. For example, the Divorce Decree should say specifically, that the non-disabled spouse is NOT entitled to any lump sum settlement should the insured settle with the insurance company in the future. Finally, there should be a provision preventing divorced spouses from petitioning the court for more and more money in the future. No, spouses should not benefit from SSDI COLA, or increases from earnings etc.)
For some reason, divorce attorneys are bit lax in not insisting on provisions that protect disabled spouses from future monetary grabs by spouses who seek to profit from the meager incomes from disability benefits. In one case I am aware of, an angry spouse continued to contact Unum about allegations of settlement offers when there were none. I’ve often been contacted by angry spouses seeking information about their ex’s benefits and claims.
One final warning. All disability policies and Plans pay a Survivor’s Benefit of 3 times gross benefits when an insured dies. Usually, the policy states it will pay to a “surviving spouse” “heirs, meaning children”, and or the estate. It is suggested that all insureds specifically indicate in a LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT” who should be paid the Surviving Spouse Benefits. You can have the Will administrator or court place this benefit in a Trust for your children and can’t be touched by an ex-spouse. If the benefit is payable to your ESTATE, an ex-spouse can petition a probate judge for a specified sum. You can be sure that without mention of this benefit specifically, in a Last Will and Testament, an ex-spouse will try to get all or a piece of it.
In my twenty-five years experience as a Consultant, it is clear that disabled persons are vulnerable to abuses in many different ways. If you find yourself on the way to a divorce, ensure that your attorney is aware of all of the consequences relating to your disability benefit and is willing to add provisions addressing future problems in the Divorce Decree. Do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of in this way.