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Getting Social Security benefits from a jerk

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POSTED March 22, 2013 9:19 p.m.

Gosh, there are a lot of rotten husbands out there! That's why I keep telling my wife she should fall down on her knees every day and thank her lucky stars that she got one of the good guys. OK, I really don't do that. In fact, if I did say that to my wife, the only reason she might drop to her knees is because she'd be laughing so hard she wouldn't be able to keep standing!

But I can't help thinking there are an awful lot of ... well ... awful men out there. That's because I get emails almost every day from women asking me a Social Security question that involves being married to a jerk. Here are several examples.

Q: I have a complicated story and don't know where to turn. I hope you can help me. I was married to my first husband for 20 years. He died a long time ago. After quite a while living alone, I finally met another man. We lived together as husband and wife for 15 years. But then I learned he was married all that time to another woman. After I found out, he divorced this other woman and then married me. However, he died just four months after our marriage. Am I due any of this Social Security?

A: Let's start with two easy issues. 1) You didn't mention if you have your own Social Security. If you do, nothing involved with any "husbands" keeps you from getting your own Social Security. 2) You would be due widow's benefits from your first husband's record.

Now for the more difficult issue of whether or not you might be due benefits from, oh well, let's call him Mr. Bigamy, or Mr. B! Social Security rules generally say a marriage must last 9 months to be valid (unless he died from accidental causes). So Mr. B's four month legal marriage to you will get you nowhere with Social Security.

However, we can fall back on a possible common-law marriage for those 15 years you were together. Social Security follows state laws on these matters. So if you were living in a state that recognizes common-law marriage, then Social Security will recognize it.

But of course we have that little issue that he was married to someone else while you guys were living together. Social Security law does have a "good faith" clause. That rule essentially says that if you entered into this relationship truly believing that Mr. B was unmarried, then your common-law marriage to him can be considered valid.

Each of these issues (the 9 month rule, common-law marriage and the good faith clause) has some "ifs, ands or buts" associated with it. So the bottom line is you will just have to sit down with someone at your local Social Security office to go over all these messy marital matters.

Q: I want to know if there is any way I can attach my husband's Social Security in order to collect on his bad debts. We were married for 20 years. He maxed out our credit cards, buying all kinds of things (cars, boats, campers, etc.) I didn't think we needed. Then he ran off with another woman (taking the camper and boat) and left me with all the bills. I was hounded by some pretty aggressive bill collectors, and I finally paid off all his debt. He has no plans to pay me back. So I want to know this: Can I attach his Social Security in order to get back the money that he owes me? By the way, I have worked and have my own Social Security, but it's a little less than he would be due.

A: It sounds like you need a good lawyer, not a Social Security guy. But since you asked, I'll address your question.

As a general rule, Social Security benefits can only be garnished to collect back taxes or to collect past due child support. So I'm afraid you won't be able to "attach" his Social Security.

I normally don't want to wish ill on any person. But I might make an exception in your husband's case. Let's hope that he drops dead! That's the only way you will be able to touch his Social Security, by collecting widow's benefits on his account.

Q: After almost 40 years of marriage, my husband left me for a much younger and prettier woman. We're still married, and I don't plan to give him a divorce because I want to get back at him by collecting his Social Security. He's 62 but says he doesn't plan to file for Social Security until he is 70. He would never let me work outside the home, so I don't have my own Social Security. I am also 62. How will I be able to get the spousal benefits I'm due if he refuses to sign up for Social Security?

A: You can get the benefits you are due on his record by dumping his sorry butt! As long as you remain married to him, the law assumes he is supporting you so it won't let you get any of his Social Security until he does. And you certainly don't want to wait until age 70 for that to happen.

But if you get a divorce, then you will be eligible for benefits right away. That's because the law allows a divorced woman to collect wife's benefits from her ex-husband's Social Security record even if he isn't getting benefits himself. He must be old enough to be eligible for Social Security. And he is, because you said he's 62 years old. So see a divorce lawyer, and then once he is legally out of your hair, contact your local Social Security office.

And as mentioned in the answer to the previous question, go ahead and wish some ill will on Mr. Wonderful. Maybe the excitement of being with that "much younger and prettier woman" will cause him to have a heart attack and die. Then you will be eligible for much higher divorced widow's benefits on his account.

 

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