Many people going through divorce in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s, do not consider what their access to social security benefits may be later in life due to the divorce. The good news is, if you were married for ten years or longer, you may be entitled to benefits based on your ex-spouse’s social security retirement benefit. This is an often missed, but often very important, income source, particularly for those with limited income and assets.
Social Security Spousal Benefits
Whether both you and your spouse are income earners, or if your spouse earns income and you do not, you are both entitled to social security benefits. If you are married at the time you become eligible to receive social security retirement benefits, and both earned income, you can each elect to receive your individual social security benefits. As an alternative, one of you can instead choose to receive the spousal benefit and delay the receipt of your own benefit. Electing such delay may increase your own social security benefit due to the delayed retirement credits. Spousal benefits are equal to a percentage of the social security full retirement benefit your spouse is eligible to receive. Receipt of a portion of your spouse’s benefit does not decrease the amount your spouse receives.
Divorced Spouse Benefits
If you are divorced, you may still be entitled to a portion of your ex-spouse’s social security retirement benefit. If you were married for 10 years or more, you reach age 62, your ex-spouse is eligible to receive benefits, and the benefit you could receive on your own is less than the benefit you would receive based on the divorced spouse benefits, you can elect to receive the divorced spouse social security benefit. The divorced spouse social security benefit is currently equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement benefit.
If you are also entitled to receive your own social security retirement benefits, you can choose to delay receipt of your social security retirement benefits while you collect the divorced spouse benefit. This option may allow your retirement benefit to grow due to the delayed retirement credits. Your ex-spouse need not have actually elected to begin receiving benefits for you to receive the spousal benefit. He/she need only be eligible, that is, age 62 or older. Additionally, and importantly, the amount of the divorced spouse social security benefit received does not affect the ex-spouse, or their current spouse’s, retirement benefit.
For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html