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Dealing With Social Security Benefits After Divorce


Getting divorced can be an emotionally taxing experience that raises a number of complicated life questions. It can also come with a wide range of financial issues, often including how property will be divided and whether one spouse will pay the other alimony or child support.

One common financial planning question that comes up, especially when older couples decide to split: What about Social Security benefits? 

The short answer is that people who were married for at least 10 years can seek these valuable benefits based on their former spouse’s work record. Like anyone else who works, they can alternatively seek benefits based on their own work records. They just cannot double-dip.

There are several factors to keep in mind when it comes to getting Social Security benefits after a divorce. The earlier you start planning – even if it is before you file for divorce – the better prepared you will be.

How Social Security Retirement Benefits Work

Social Security is designed to work as a type of safety net. Most people who work in the U.S. automatically have a portion of their paychecks taxed to fund the system so that retirement and disability benefits are available for those who are later eligible.

Social Security retirement benefits are monthly payments meant to replace a part of your regular earnings once you reach a certain age. The payment amount varies based on several factors, including how much you earned while working and how old you are when you start tapping into the benefits. The maximum monthly benefit currently tops out at more than $3,100.

The full retirement age is 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later. The age is lower – on a sliding scale – for people born earlier. Workers who are otherwise eligible for retirement benefits can start getting them as early as 62, but the payments will be as much as nearly one-third lower than they would be if they wait to reach full retirement age.

To be eligible for retirement benefits, a person generally has to show that he or she has worked (and paid into the system through tax deductions) for at least 10 years. 

The 10-Year Rule and Other Requirements for Benefits Based on an Ex-Spouse’s Record

As mentioned above, a person seeking Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record must have been married to his or her former spouse for at least 10 years. Fortunately, you do not need a court order entitling you to benefits. You just have to be able to show that you were married for the minimum required time.

That is not the only requirement for eligibility. You also must:

  • Be unmarried (unless you were over the age of 60 when you remarried)
  • Be 62 or older (unless you are disabled and your ex-spouse is deceased)
  • Be entitled to fewer benefits if you applied based on your own work record

In addition, you must be able to show that your former spouse’s work record is sufficient to qualify for Social Security benefits. 

How Much Will I Get in Monthly Payments?

The monthly payment amount for a person who obtains Social Security retirement benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record varies based on several factors.

The maximum amount you can obtain is 50% of what your former spouse will get at full retirement age. Based on the current rates, that is nearly $1,600 per month. 

Although you can start getting benefits before your spouse reaches full retirement age, the payments will be reduced by as much as nearly 8% for every year you claim early. In addition, your benefits will be further reduced if you are still working, in some cases. 

You can get an estimate of what your former spouse will earn at full retirement age by seeking that information from your ex-spouse or going through the Social Security Administration.

What if My Ex-Spouse Dies?

You may be able to receive 100% of the Social Security retirement payments that your former spouse was getting if he or she passes away. The requirement for getting these survivor benefits include:

  • You were married for at least 10 years.
  • You are at least 60 years old (50 years old for people who are disabled). There is no age minimum for people who are caring for a child from the previous marriage who is under the age of 16 or became disabled before turning 22.
  • You are not currently married, or you remarried after the age of 60 (50 for people who are disabled).

Your age also matters when it comes to survivor benefits. If you take the benefits before reaching full retirement age, the payments will be reduced.

Should I Seek Retirement Benefits Based on My Ex-Spouse’s Record?

If you are also eligible for retirement benefits based on your own work record, it is important to weigh your options.

If you were born in 1953 or earlier, you can seek Social Security benefits based on your former spouse’s work record and later switch to benefits based on your own record. But the benefit amounts will be reduced if you file early.

For everyone else, you have to choose between taking your benefits or taking benefits based on your former spouse’s work record. The decision depends mainly on which option will result in higher monthly payments. Remember, you can only get 50% of what your former spouse is entitled to if you seek benefits based on his or her record.

It is also important to understand that seeking benefits based on your former spouse’s record will not reduce the amount that your former spouse gets.

If you are using your ex-spouse’s record, there is no benefit to waiting until you hit full retirement age. If your former spouse has reached full retirement age, you should file a benefits application.

Get Professional Help to Understand How Much You Are Entitled to Receive 

Social Security benefits can provide an important lifeline for retired people who are divorced. Even if you do not believe you are eligible, it is worth checking with an expert. It is also a good idea to learn more about your rights and explore your options when considering a divorce or after you and your spouse have gone your separate ways.

A seasoned and knowledgeable professional, such as a lawyer at Kraayeveld Law Offices, can help you navigate the system. Call us today at 616-285-0808 or online today.