Dear Penny: Can My Fraudster Ex-Husband Take My Social Security?

A man smokes a cigar in his home while sitting on his couch in a wife beater and short shorts. He's talking on the phone.
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Dear Penny,

My spouse was in the Air Force National Guard on and off. He owned a private, profitable tree work, gutter cleaning, snow-plowing and roof-raking company. He hasn’t filed business or personal taxes since the mid-’90s. He NEVER paid into Social Security and has been involved in fraudulent activities. Is he still entitled to 50% of my Social Security?

I’ve been disabled since 2000. I’ve paid all the bills, while he has been stashing cash and trying to get me to return to work, all while working only on bending his right elbow and lying in court. 

His attorney told the court outright that he will NOT file taxes. Since he’s a hoarder, I believe he filled his friend’s dumpster and disposed of his paperwork in the friend’s outside furnace to impress his mistress.

-Hands Off My Social Security

Dear Hands Off,

Unfortunately, Social Security doesn’t have special rules for lying, cheating, no-good rotten scoundrel spouses. The rules that were meant to protect spouses who stayed at home for much of their marriage, often caring for a family, also apply to guys like your husband.

So yes, he’ll probably be able to collect up to 50% of your full retirement age benefit, whether you’re still married or you’re divorced.

You say your husband has been involved in fraudulent activities. Technically, if your husband were incarcerated for more than 30 days, any Social Security benefits would be suspended until his release. But this sounds like it’s a nasty divorce involving a deadbeat husband, rather than a criminal case.

Dear Penny

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That’s the bad news. The good news is that even if your ex gets Social Security based on your work record, it will never, EVER affect your benefit. If you remarry at some point, his benefit also wouldn’t have any impact on your current spouse.

Since your husband was in the National Guard off and on, I’m guessing he paid at least something into Social Security, even if it wasn’t much. What happens in this situation is that Social Security looks at whatever your husband qualifies for based on his own work record. Then they use his current or ex-spouse’s record to qualify him for extra benefits if applicable.

It sounds like this divorce is still underway. You’re probably not going to be able to prove how much cash he’s earned over the years or whether he torched his business records. Focus on what you can control. For example, anything you can do to prove you shouldn’t pay alimony or that any assets should go to you would be a far better use of your time and energy than worrying about his Social Security.

Hang on to any financial documentation you have, like bank statements and copies of bills you’ve paid, so that you can present them to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, search the American Bar Association’s website to see if free legal assistance is available in your area.

Your ex’s Social Security benefit is out of your hands, and it doesn’t affect you. You can’t undo what sounds like a miserable couple of decades with this guy. But rather than getting angry about his Social Security, channel your energy toward building a life that he’s not part of.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].