Divorce often means more than the end of a personal relationship and the emotional roller coaster that comes with it. For one or both spouses, it also means a financial shakeup. For one reason or another, your ex-spouse may have to pay you alimony or spousal support.
This money may be your life-line – you need it so you can take care of yourself. What can you do when your ex-spouse stops making payments? There are ways you can enforce your right to payments, including going after your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits.
Exception to the General Rule
The basic rule in Florida, and in most other states, is that social security benefits usually can’t be taken or garnished to pay off debts. In other words, a bank can’t take the benefits to pay off a customer’s car loan. They’re also exempt in bankruptcy, so a trustee can’t take them to pay credit card and other bills owed by someone who files for bankruptcy.
Alimony is Special
There’s no protection or exemption for your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits. The Social Security Act is very clear that the federal government – and specifically the Social Security Administration (SSA) – may withhold money from your ex-spouse’s benefits checks when necessary to enforce your right to alimony (or child support payments).
Not All SS Benefits May Be Garnished
It’s important to note that only your ex-spouse’s Social Security retirement benefits and other payments directly related to your ex-spouse’s work or employment history may be garnished. You can’t garnish disability benefits your ex-spouse may receive from the SSA.
How To Garnish SS Benefits
It’s always best to follow Florida’s general enforcement rules when your ex-spouse doesn’t pay court-ordered alimony, or the alimony you both agreed to in a support agreement. This may include filing a lawsuit against your ex-spouse for contempt and a court-order and judgment for the amount you’re owed. You may be able to:
- Force the sale of your ex-spouse’s real and personal property
- Garnish your ex-spouse’s wages
When it comes to garnishing your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits, it’s best to go to court first, too. That way, your ex-spouse likely will be ordered to make future alimony payments to a state- or court-run depository. Other steps include:
- Contacting the state or court depository your ex-spouse makes payments to and request that it contact SSA
- Contacting the SSA directly for information about garnishing benefits
- Talking to your divorce lawyer
You’re entitled to the alimony or spousal support awarded to you in your divorce action. Your ex-spouse has a legal obligation to pay it. Garnishing Social Security benefits is just another tool to help make sure you get what you need to live and that your ex-spouse honors the obligation to pay.
Questions for Your Attorney
- When it comes to garnishing Social Security benefits, does it matter if I live in Florida but ex-spouse doesn’t?
- How long will the garnishment process take?
- Does my ex-spouse have to pay the fees you charge me for helping me garnish my ex-spouse’s benefits?