Social Security and Divorce

social security divorce benefits

Many people after approaching retirement age require the fixed income stream that Social Security provides, whether to pay for necessaries or to give more flexibility with regard to other investment income. Divorced spouses have benefits through their former spouse – a fact far too many people overlook. However, as discussed in this recent article, the benefits have certain strict requirements to qualify.

In order to qualify as a divorced spouse, you must have been married to your former spouse for at least ten years. These years must be consecutive; if you were married for five, divorced for two years and remarried for another six and divorced, you would be out of luck. Also, at the time you retire you must be unmarried and at least age 62. If you have remarried and divorced, you can collect the benefits from the qualifying former spouse (but not more than one, as that would be double dipping).

But if you do meet all the requirements, you could qualify for quite a benefit – half the amount of your former spouse’s monthly benefit. Many couples have one principal earner so that one spouse accumulates very little income over time for calculating Social Security retirement benefits. Hence, having the ability to retire at the income level of the former spouse could mean hundreds or thousands of dollars extra per month at retirement. A caveat – you cannot collect your benefits and your former spouse share at the same time (that would be double dipping). Social Security will simply pay you the highest monthly benefit.

Retirement benefits continue for as long as the divorced spouse lives, though if you are surviving divorced spouse, meaning the former spouse has died, as long as you meet the ten year requirement you can claim survivor benefits – the full monthly retirement benefit of the former spouse. You can remarry after age 60 and still qualify for the benefit; if you remarry earlier, you cannot claim the benefit.

What if the former spouse remarries – does that negate any divorced spouse benefits? No. If the former spouse remarried and divorced, and both marriages meet the ten year requirement, both former spouses may receive the retirement and survivor benefits.

If you are currently married and contemplating divorce, and you have a low Social Security benefit compared to your spouse, you may want to consider delaying the time of your divorce so that you may qualify for the spousal Social Security benefit.

If you have questions about Social Security and divorce, contact us – we can help.