Santa Paula, CA asked in Social Security for California

Q: If a spouse is the payee for Social Security disability can they use those funds to pay off personal debt, fines,etc?

My ex husband was the payee for my social security disability as well as additional benefits for our child. When we divorced I discovered he had spent $25,000.00 in back pay for personal debts, gave his mom $7,000 he owed in back rent from when I was not living with him plus jewelry and other gifts for her as well. He was told all I would need to do was have my psychiatrist fill out simple paperwork so I would no longer require a payee he and kept the information from me and lHe claimed to have paid $2,800 I owed in restitution to the court but actually paid only 1,000 and was unwilling or unable to account for the remaining money. At that time I spoke to someone from the district attorney’s office and was told it was perfectly legal for him to all of that because we were married and it was community property. Recently while researching information to advocate for our son who is autistic and non verbal I read something that seems to contradict what I was told by the DA’s office

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1 Lawyer Answer
Susan Michele Schaefer
Susan Michele Schaefer
  • Social Security Disability Lawyer
  • Prattville, AL

A: Social Security law and regulations require a representative payee to use the Social Security payments they receive on the beneficiary's behalf for essential needs of the beneficiary.

Examples of benefits being properly disbursed are payments for food, housing, utilities, medical or dental care, personal hygiene, etc. The representative payee has the same responsibility with regard to past-due benefits, which may be a large amount of money.

If there are funds left over once the beneficiary’s needs are met, the representative payee may spend money to improve the beneficiary's daily living conditions or they may apply part of the remaining funds to support the basic needs of the spouse or children who are the beneficiary's legal dependents. The representative payee should then save and/or invest the remaining funds for the beneficiary. The representative payee is responsible for keeping records of how the payments are spent or saved, and making all records available for review if requested by Social Security. This pamphlet has some general information about representative payee responsibilities at

Misuse occurs when a representative payee converts Social Security and/or SSI payments for purposes other than the use and benefit of the beneficiary or for certain legal dependents of the beneficiary after the beneficiary's current and reasonably foreseeable needs are met.

Since you are concerned about misuse of your benefits by your representative payee, you should contact the Social Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) Fraud Hotline and ask that they investigate the situation. OIG’s fraud hotline is 1-800-269-0271 or you can submit a report online at

You may also want to ask Social Security to change your representative payee if there is another person or organization that would better fits your needs, and particularly since you suspect your current representative payee is not following SSA rules and misusing your benefits.

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