Saturday, March 30, 2013
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Social Security Disability (“SSD”) affect spousal support and child support in different ways. The existence of a disability is the common requirement in order to receive either SSI or SSD. The Social Security Administration defines “disability” as an inability to do substantial activity because of a medically diagnosed physical or mental impairment that can result in death or an impairment that lasts for no less than twelve months. The impairment must make the person unable to do work that they used to be able to do in the past or any other work in the existing economy.
SSI provides disabled indigents with the most basic of resources. It is calculated using any existing income or the resources of the party. SSI benefits are designed to supplement the recipient’s income so that the person receiving it has an income that Congress deems to be the minimum necessary to live on. SSI will only be given to someone who cannot meet his or her basic needs. The amount of SSI will only be sufficient enough to cover that person’s basic needs.
The dependent children of a person receiving SSI benefits are not entitled to receive benefits of their own. SSI benefits are only paid to the qualifying person based upon his or her individual needs. Additionally, courts do not use the SSI benefits a person receives when calculating income for child support. However, a court can enter a support order against a person who receives SSI if the court determines that the parent has the ability to earn additional income. Furthermore, if a child is disabled and receiving SSI on his or her own, the child support amount cannot be reduced by the amount of SSI the disabled child receives.
Spousal support can affect how much a person receives from SSI. Because SSI is based on a person’s income and assets, spousal support is included in the applicant’s resources. Thus, an award of spousal support could make a person ineligible to receive SSI benefits wholly or partially.
SSD, on the other hand, is not determined by the income and/or resources of the person requesting the benefits. SSD benefits are used to supplement income lost due to the requesting person’s disability and loss of work income. SSD payments are money the requester has earned through employment and to which the employer has contributed under the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §405. If a person is determined to be ineligible for SSD benefits, he or she may still be eligible for SSI.
When a parent is receiving SSD, a dependent child may also be able to receive SSD benefits without affecting the amount of SSD benefits the parent receives. The amount the child receives will depend on the parent’s work history. SSD benefits are payable if the person satisfies the disability requirement and has sufficient lifetime earnings with contributions into the Social Security fund. Additionally, the dependent child receiving SSD benefits does not have to be in the custody of the parent receiving SSD benefits. Furthermore, any SSD payments made to the dependent child will reduce the amount of the child support obligation before it is apportioned between the parties.
A parent receiving SSD must include those benefits as gross income for purposes of determining child support in New Jersey. Additionally, Section 207(a) of the Social Security Act states that SSD benefits are attachable for child support purposes. This means that the payments are subject to income withholding or other legal process in order to enforce a child support obligation. The receipt of spousal support does not impact a party’s eligibility for SSD benefits or the amount of SSD benefits a person receives.
If you have questions about how disability could impact your child or spousal support order, you should contact an attorney.
Written by Allyson Lutley, former law clerk at The Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC. Edited by Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire, associate attorney.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Thursday, March 21, 2013
In S.M.C. v. W.P.C., Pennsylvania courts analyzed defenses to spousal support. Husband and Wife were married in 1994 and had one child in 2003. In an October 2010 hearing regarding spousal support, Wife testified that she left the marital home in June 2010 because Husband was verbally abusive and angry when discussing a cruise she took with female friends in April 2010. Wife further testified that Husband was angry with her because he felt it was improper for a wife to be alone without her husband. Wife was afraid to return home after the cruise because Husband had sent her numerous nasty messages while she was gone. Wife testified that she only returned to the home because her seven-year-old daughter was there. Wife also testified that three days after she left the marital home, she met her current boyfriend. Wife testified that she began dating her boyfriend three days after she left the marital home.
Husband testified that Wife’s cruise was the tipping point in the relationship and he was angry that she went on the cruise over his objections. Husband also testified that he learned about Wife’s relationship with her boyfriend just a few weeks prior to the October spousal support hearing.
At the October spousal support hearing, the hearing officer decided that Wife’s conduct post-separation was not relevant to an award of spousal support. In November 2010, Husband filed exceptions to the hearing officer’s recommendations. The trial court heard oral arguments in February 2011 and denied Husband’s exceptions and converted the hearing officer’s temporary order into a final order. Husband then appealed.
Husband’s first three issues on appeal dealt with the award of spousal support to Wife. Husband argued that it was error for the trial court to award Wife spousal support because she voluntarily left the home, went on a cruise with her friend against her husband’s wishes, and engaged in an affair post-separation.
Pennsylvania spousal support law states that “married persons are liable for the support of each other according to their respective abilities to provide support as provided by law.” 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 4321(1). An exception to this obligation exists where the recipient spouse conducts him or herself in a manner that would constitute grounds for a fault-based divorce. Under the Divorce Code, 23 Pa.C.S.A. §3301(a), a fault-based divorce may be granted to the innocent and injured spouse when the spouse has done one or more of six things:
(1) committed willful and malicious desertion and absence from the habitation of the injured and innocent spouse, without a reasonable cause, for the period of one or more years;
(2) committed adultery;
(3) by cruel and barbarous treatment, endangered the life or health of the injured and innocent spouse;
(4) knowingly entered into a bigamous marriage while a former marriage is still subsisting;
(5) been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of two or more years upon conviction of having committed a crime.;
(6) offered such indignities to the innocent and injured spouse as to render that spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome.
With respect to Husband’s assertion that indignities arose as a result of Wife’s affair after the separation, the Appellate Court has held that misconduct engaged in post-separation is not considered unless it supports misconduct that occurred prior to the separation. In this case, Husband did not allege that Wife committed any indignities before the separation; therefore, Husband would have had no claim for a fault divorce and, thus, had no claim for denial of spousal support.
Husband’s assertion that Wife going on a cruise with her friend constituted indignities was wholly unfounded. A single act by a spouse does not give rise to a finding of indignities. For indignities to be successfully raised as a reason for divorce, there must be a course of conduct that is humiliating and degrading to a spouse. Wife’s vacation with her friend did not constitute indignities, and Husband’s anger at Wife for going did not make his life so intolerable that he could include indignities as a reason to prevent spousal support.
Additionally, Husband argued that Wife should not be entitled to spousal support because Wife left the marital home without cause and, therefore, Husband had a claim of desertion against Wife. In order to overcome a claim of desertion, the trial court must find that the spouse who left the marital home had shown evidence of an “adequate legal cause” for leaving. Wife was receiving nasty messages from Husband while she was on vacation, which caused her to be afraid to return home, and Husband had been emotionally abusive to her throughout the marriage. The trial court found there was enough evidence to conclude that Wife had adequate legal cause to leave the marital home and that her departure was not on a whim or done with malice. Therefore, Husband did not have a claim for denial of spousal support based on the theory of desertion.
In summary, there are grounds for denying spousal support in Pennsylvania, but the payor must be able to prove his or her assertions. If a divorce complaint is filed, the spouse would be eligible for alimony pendente lite. There are no fault grounds for denying alimony pendente lite. The distinction is important and you should strategize with your lawyer whether to file a divorce complaint to avoid the potential finding of a denial of spousal support via fault.
If you have questions or concerns about spousal support, you should contact an attorney.
Written by Allyson Lutley, former law clerk to The Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC. Edited by Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire, associate attorney.