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How does divorce affect Social Security benefits?

Back in November, our blog began discussing how statistics reveal that more and more couples here in the U.S. are electing to end their marriages later in life, a phenomenon known as "gray divorce." Indeed, we discussed how this could be attributed to a host of factors from empty nests and emotional estrangement to second marriages and evolving social mores.

Whatever the reason older couples decide to divorce, the reality is that they often have considerably different property division concerns than their younger counterparts. For example, one issue that frequently comes up during gray divorces is Social Security benefits.

According to the Social Security Administration, you are entitled to receive retirement benefits based on the working record of their former spouse provided the following conditions are satisfied:

  • You were married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years
  • You are currently 62-years-old or older
  • You are currently unmarried
  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to retirement benefits
  • Your benefits based on your working record would be less than the amount you would receive based on the working record of your ex-spouse

Some important points for those who elect to go this route to keep in mind include:

  • If you start receiving retirement benefits at your full retirement age -- currently 66 -- your benefit is equal to exactly 50 percent of your ex-spouse's full retirement amount.
  • In the event your ex-spouse has not yet applied for their retirement benefits despite qualifying for them, you can still receive benefits based on their work record. However, you must have been divorced for at least two years.
  • You may elect to receive retirement benefits based on your ex-spouse's record even if they have remarried, and doing so will not negatively affect the retirement benefits that either they or their new spouse are entitled to receive.
  • While you can no longer collect retirement benefits based on the work record of your ex-spouse if you remarry, you can resume doing so in the event this subsequent marriage ends by divorce/annulment or death.

If you have questions or concerns relating to divorce, particularly as they relate to property division, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more.

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