Jonathan Marks, STL Moms: What happens to Social Security benefits following divorce?

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Margie: Well it’s something that we see coming out of our checks, and that many rely on as a source of income when they get older, but what happens to Social Security when it comes to divorce? Jonathan Marks with The Marks Law Firm is here this morning to talk about it. Good morning to you.

Jonathan: Good morning, Margie.

Margie: Yeah, so divorce can certainly play a role in your Social Security benefits. What do we need to know?

Jonathan: Yeah, the most important thing up front is to know that whatever you put away through your earnings, you’re not going to lose your individual Social Security benefit when you go through the divorce process.

Margie: So you get to keep that, so what criteria would one have to meet to get someone else’s Social Security benefits?

Jonathan: So first of all, you need to be married at least a minimum of 10 years. After that, you have to be divorced at least a period of two years, and then you have a couple of options: Either A, you don’t remarry, and then you’d have the ability to file under your former spouse’s benefit, or if you do remarry, it needs to be after your former spouse has passed away and you’ve remarried after the age of 60.

Margie: But you can’t have two claims. So you can’t claim yourself and your former spouse, right?

Jonathan: No. So when you go and you file for Social Security, you can only do it under one Social Security number. So you have to make the determination up front, at least for a period of time, as to whether you’re going to be claiming under your own Social Security number or you’re going to be claiming under your former spouse’s benefit.

Margie: And what kind of role does retirement age play in all of this?

Jonathan: So just like in any other retirement account, if you had a pension and maybe your pension would be reduced based upon you taking some form of early retirement, the Social Security benefit is going to be determined as well. So in that regard, you have to take an examination and figure out whether or not it makes sense for you to claim under age 70, age 66, 67, or maybe as early as 62. That determination first has to be whether you’re waiting to claim under your own at age 70 and you’re eligible to claim under your former spouse, and maybe you have a period of time where you get that extra benefit, or it’s just a determination of which one is going to be larger and how you maximize that check that’s coming to you every month.

Margie: Alright, throwing another thing at you: what if you’ve been divorced more than once, and both of those marriages have lasted more than 10 years?

Jonathan: Right, so, in that situation it’s even more complicated. So you would be able to choose between the benefit, but again, you gotta make sure, as you stated, you had to have been married at least 10 years for each of those marriages, and then you need to make the determination is the first spouse’s benefit higher than the second spouse’s benefit, and make that determination through the Social Security Administration.

Margie: Yeah, and of course, all of this can change, so certainly something you want to check on.

Jonathan: Absolutely. Any of these things could change over time, and when you do become eligible at age 62 for purposes of determining Social Security benefit, you either want to contact an attorney that is familiar with Social Security law, or you want to contact the Social Security office directly to ask them your questions.

Margie: Alright, family law attorney Jonathan Marks, thank you, we appreciate it.

Jonathan: Thank you.

You need an experienced divorce attorney on your side.