Social Security Benefits After Divorce
Divorce can have a far-reaching effect on the ex-spouses’ financial situations.
One area that may have a bit of good news is Social Security (SS) benefits.
SS benefits are based on the SS records of the ex-spouses.
By “record” I mean all information stored by the Social Security Administration since the day they issued you a Social Security card. Primarily this consists of your earnings from your work history.
You can get a copy of your Social Security record by creating an online SS account here.
How Social Security and Divorce Work
For the most part, the Social Security rules for divorced couples are the same as those for married couples. (Note that SS survivor benefits when your ex-spouse is deceased may be different. See “What If My Former Spouse Dies?” below.)
Social Security Is Not Part of the Divorce Decree
Social Security benefit eligibility, amount, and entitlement are all part of federal law. No negotiation regarding Social Security is needed between the divorcing spouses. SS law at the time each ex-spouse applies for benefits will determine how much each is eligible for, when benefits can be applied for, etc. What each ex-spouse chooses to do regarding their SS benefits has no effect on the benefits the other receives.
Therefore, what you and your ex-spouse will or won’t do concerning your SS benefits is not part of your divorce decree.
Couple Had to Have Been Married for At Least 10 Years
In order for either of you to be eligible at all to receive SS benefits based on the other’s record, you first had to have been married to each other for 10 years or more.
Timing can be crucial. Let’s say your tenth wedding anniversary is coming up while you and your spouse are going through a divorce. It may be beneficial to both of you to push out the date of the final divorce decree past the anniversary date.
Where to Start with Social Security If Divorced
If you are at least age 62, unmarried, and your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you may be eligible to receive benefits based on his or her Social Security record.
- You will need to provide a certified copy of your divorce decree to claim benefits. To expedite your application, keep a record of your ex-spouse’s Social Security number.
- Social Security will not notify your ex-spouse of your claim.
- Your claim will not affect your ex’s benefits.
- Your claim will not affect the SS benefits his or her next spouse may receive based on your ex’s record.
- As of this writing, SS will the pay you either your own benefit or 50% of your ex-spouse’s benefit, whichever is higher. SS will not pay you both amounts.
How SS Benefits Work
Let’s talk about fictional divorce couple Bob and Sally. Here’s their background:
- They were married for over 10 years when they divorced.
- Bob is now 67, and Sally is 66.
- Both are eligible to receive SS benefits.
- Both have the relevant information about the other such as Social Security number, etc.
Bob and Sally have the same options for receiving SS benefits.
Let’s say, based on their own SS records, Bob’s SS benefit is $2,400 per month and Sally’s is $900 per month.
Bob receives the $2,400 per month based on his own benefit. He receives this full amount regardless of what Sally’s choice is concerning receiving SS benefits.
Assuming Sally meets SS eligibility requirements, as Bob’s ex-spouse, she is entitled to an amount equal to half of Bob’s benefit, or $1,200 per month. The government will add $300 to bring her total benefit to $1,200 per month. Sally’s “extra” $300 is not “taken” from or “paid for” by Bob; it comes from the government. His SS benefit remains unaffected.
Sally doesn’t need Bob’s permission to make this choice. Social Security will not notify Bob that she is drawing SS based on his record.
If, however, Sally’s own benefit were $1,300, then her only option is to apply for that. That’s because $1,300 is greater than the $1,200 she would be entitled as an ex-spouse of Bob. Social Security will pay only the higher amount of the two benefits, your own or what you qualify for as an ex-spouse.
What If I Remarry After the Divorce?
Your later marriage makes you ineligible to collect benefits based on your prior ex’s record.
Should your later marriage end by annulment, divorce, or the death of your later spouse, then you become eligible again to receive benefits based on your first ex’s record.
If you remarry multiple times, you may be able to choose to take the benefit from the ex-spouse that has the highest benefit.
What If My Ex-Spouse Hasn’t Retired Yet?
Even if your ex-spouse has not applied for SS benefits, you may be allowed to collect spousal benefits. For you to qualify:
- Your former spouse must be eligible for SS benefits, which means he or she must be at least 62; and,
- The two of you must have been divorced for at least two years.
What If My Former Spouse Dies?
If your former spouse has died, you may be entitled to Social Security survivor benefits as a former spouse if you meet all of the following requirements:
- Your marriage lasted at least ten years.
- You’re at least 60 years old, or 50 if disabled.
- You haven’t remarried before the age of 60.
- Your prior spouse has died and had contributed sufficiently to Social Security before his or her death.
If your ex-spouse remarries, you won’t lose your ability to collect Social Security survivor benefits should he or she die. However, if you remarry, your ability to collect Social Security survivor benefits could be impacted, depending on the age at which you remarry.
If a parent dies, the children receive a death benefit from Social Security until they are age 18, depending upon the amount in the parent’s SS record. This benefit can be useful to help replace child support if the former spouse that died was the child support payor.
For more on the topic of SS survivor benefits, please visit “Survivors Planner: Benefits For Your Surviving Divorced Spouse.”
Divorce and Social Security Resources
“Five Tips if You Changed Your Name Due to Marriage or Divorce,” IRS TAX TIP 2011-23, February 02, 2011
IRS Publication 504: Divorced or Separated Individuals (for use in preparing tax returns)
Social Security Administration
“Divorce and Women’s Social Security Retirement Benefits” (SSA.gov)
What Every Woman Should Know (SSA.gov) See “If you’re divorced” on page 20.
Ex-Spouse Benefits and You (SSA blog)
Survivors Planner: Benefits For Your Surviving Divorced Spouse
Photo credit: CanStockPhoto.com
This blog and its materials have been prepared by BJ Mediation Services for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal or financial advice. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.