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Social Security benefits and divorce

Did you know that you may be eligible to receive a portion of your spouse's Social Security retirement benefits after you divorce? Many people going through a divorce are not aware that this is something to consider and to address as part of the process. In fact, it can be a significant benefit that should be pursued. Social Security benefits are not dividable under Federal law, but are an economic circumstance to be considered in both the division of marital assets and cash flow after the divorce is completed.

If you were married for 10 years or longer, you may be entitled to receive Social Security benefits based on your spouse's work record and history if:

  • You are no longer married;
  • You are 62 years of age or older
  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement benefits or disability benefits, AND
  • Any benefit you are personally entitled to receive from your own work record and history is less than the benefit you could receive through your ex's benefit
  • You have not remarried after the divorce from the spouse whose retirement benefits you are seeking to claim upon

The benefit you are entitled to is one-half of your ex-spouse's Social Security benefit, but only if you start receiving this benefit at your full retirement age. Your full retirement age is based on your birth year. 

What if my ex is not yet receiving retirement benefits?

Even if your ex is not yet drawing upon their Social Security benefits, you can still receive your portion of the benefits if you have been divorced two or more years. 

What benefit do I receive if I am entitled to benefits based on my own work history?

If you are eligible for your own personal benefits, but the benefits you would receive through your ex-spouse are higher, you would be entitled to an additional amount that would be equal to the higher amount you would be entitled to based solely on your spouse's record. There are also some options to delay receiving your own benefits and instead draw on your ex-spouse's benefits first.

Other factors can affect receiving your ex's benefits

There are other factors that may affect whether you are eligible to receive your ex-spouse's benefit or how much you will receive. Some of these factors include whether:

  • You continue to work while receiving benefits
  • You will also receive a pension for work not covered by Social Security
  • Your spouse is deceased
  • You remarried, but that later spouse is deceased or you are divorced from that later spouse

Understanding your Social Security benefits and your ex-spouse's benefits can be complex and will vary depending on your individual circumstances. Working with financial professionals and your family law attorney can help illuminate this issue. If you are going through a divorce, be sure to ask them how to navigate the Social Security system in order to ensure you are maximizing your benefits.

If you have not opened an online account with the Social Security Administration, consider doing so. This will enable you to check your own Social Security earnings' records as well as predict your social security income.

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