Many individuals who go through the divorce process often do not realize they potentially have significant stakes in the Social Security benefits of their soon-to-be former spouse, funds which might help in negotiating a final property settlement.
What spouses qualify for these benefits?
To be eligible to claim under your former spouse’s Social Security, you must:
- Have been married for at least 10 years;
- Receive less of a Social Security benefit under your own work history;
- Not be presently married; and
- Be at least 62 years of age.
What happens if you meet these qualifications?
You can receive half of the monthly benefit your former spouse would receive at the time you elect to begin claiming the benefit. Please realize that timing significantly affects the amount you receive: if you claim at the first eligible age (62), you receive a reduced benefit compared to waiting until full retirement age (65 or 67), with maximum benefits peaking at age 70. Once you begin claiming the benefit, your amount will not increase when you hit the next age threshold, so you must choose carefully. Some cannot afford to wait the additional 3-5 years; for those who can, it pays greater dividends.
What happens if you remarry after you begin collecting benefits?
Generally, under these circumstances, you will be allowed to continue collecting the benefits – a big difference from maintenance that terminates upon remarriage.
What happens if you have two former marriages that qualify for benefits?
You cannot collect both benefits – the law does not allow such double-dipping. However, you can collect the higher of the benefits.
In addition to retirement benefits, Social Security also offers a survivor benefit when the former spouse dies. These benefits mirror those of a widow or widower and have the same qualifications noted above. Essentially the survivor benefit protects the spouse if he or she outlives the former spouse.
It is important to know to which benefits you may be entitled because it could affect disposition of certain retirement benefits as you negotiate a property settlement. It is especially useful for the spouse against whom the benefits will be claimed, as that spouse may want to offset maintenance or another retirement account given this particular benefit.
If you have questions about Social Security benefits and divorce, contact us – we can help.