If you are getting divorced, you have a lot of financial details to sort out. Who will get what property? How will you divide up your marital debt? Will you have to pay alimony? Will you be able to receive it? But one thing you probably haven’t thought about is your Social Security benefits, and how (if at all) your divorce will affect them. Here’s what you need to know about Social Security if you’re getting divorced.
You probably know that, as part of a married couple, the amount of Social Security benefits you qualify for can be based on your spouse’s income. For example, you may have been out of the workforce for several years, caring for your family while your spouse was the primary breadwinner. If the amount of your spousal benefit would be higher than that which you can claim on your own record, you can take that amount instead.
But what you may not know is that you can, under some circumstances, qualify for these benefits even after divorce. You should know how much you may qualify for, as that may affect whether you need spousal support, or how much.
However, not all divorced spouses qualify to receive Social Security benefits based on their ex-spouse’s record. In order to qualify, you must:
In addition, your ex-spouse must be entitled to receive Social Security benefits (either retirement or disability), and the benefit to which you would have been entitled based on your own record must be less than the benefit you would get based on your spouse’s.
What does this mean for you? If you are in a marriage that has lasted almost ten years, and you have earned significantly less than your spouse, you may want to stick it out a little longer if you can in order to qualify for higher benefits.
You may be able to receive as much as 50% of the benefit to which your ex-spouse is entitled. To make the math easy, let’s say your ex is entitled to receive $2000 per month. Your benefit would be $1000. However, your ex-spouse would still be entitled to their full benefit amount.
If your spouse gets remarried, that does not affect your ability to receive Social Security benefits based on their record. Even if your spouse remarries and divorces again, with the subsequent spouse also qualifying for benefits on your mutual ex’s record, your benefit will not be affected.
However, if you remarry, you will not be eligible to claim Social Security benefits on your ex-spouse’s record. If that later marriage ends, by annulment, divorce, or death of your subsequent spouse, you can once again qualify for Social Security benefits based on your previous ex-spouse’s record.
Let’s say your ex is doing well financially and wants to delay claiming benefits for as long as possible, but you would like to claim the benefits to which you would be entitled under their record. Luckily for you, you can. So long as you have been divorced for two years or longer, you can apply for benefits under your ex-spouse’s record, regardless of whether your ex is currently receiving benefits.
What happens if you are entitled to benefits on your own record, but are also eligible on your ex-spouse’s record? Social Security will pay your retirement benefit first; if the benefit you’re entitled to under your spouse’s record is more, you will get an additional payment so you receive the higher amount.
For instance, if your benefit would be $800 under your own record, but $1000 under your spouse’s, you will receive the $800 under your record, plus an additional $200 so you get the higher amount.
There’s good news for people born before January 2, 1954 who have already reached full retirement age. They can defer receiving their own benefit for a period of time (meaning their monthly payment, when they take it, will be higher), and first take only the benefit to which they are entitled under their ex-spouse’s record. This option is not available to people born January 2, 1954 or later, however. When they apply for their Social Security benefit, they must take whatever they are entitled to under their spouse’s record at the same time.
Do you have more questions about Social Security benefits and your divorce? Contact our law office to schedule a consultation.