5 Ways Divorce Impacts Social Security

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Over the course of a marriage, two lives become inexorably entwined, and divorce is the process of untangling them. A relatively straightforward feat in shorter unions, the longer you and your spouse stay together, the messier things get. For marriages over ten years, one thing to be aware of is how divorce impacts Social Security. You may be eligible to receive benefits based on your former spouse’s employment history. Here’s what you need to know.

Social Security Basics

When it comes to collecting Social Security benefits based on your former spouse’s work record, a number of factors come into play. You must have been married for at least ten years, you must be older than 62, and you must be currently unmarried. It doesn’t matter if your ex remarried or not.

In order to receive Social Security based on your former marriage, any benefit based on your own work history must be less than what you’d get from your spouse. Essentially, you collect one or the other, not both, and receive the larger payout.

To acquire these benefits, your former partner must actually be eligible for Social Security retirement or disability in the first place. Even if your ex hasn’t taken them yet, if you divorced more than two years ago, you can claim these allowances.

Social Security Benefits

So, you’re eligible to collect Social Security based on your former spouse’s work history. What you get depends on what she qualifies for and when you take them.

If you wait until you hit full retirement age, you’ll be eligible for payments that are half of what she would get. However, if you opt to receive payments before you hit full retirement age, less money will come your way. And not only will they be less, they remain lower permanently.

If Your Spouse Dies

Death is a part of life, especially as we get older. It’s entirely possible your ex may die before you. In this situation, you may find a bit of good news, as you may still be eligible to receive benefits.

You may qualify as a surviving divorced spouse. And if you fit this bill, the survivor benefits are 100% of what your ex received at the time of death. To meet these Social Security requirements, you must be older than 60, or 50 if you have a disability. And again, your marriage must have lasted at least ten years.

Depending on the circumstances, remarriage also impacts whether or not you qualify as a surviving spouse. If you marry again before turning 60 (or 50 if you have a disability), you no longer meet the requirements. However, if you wait until after 60 (or, again, 50 if you’re disabled), you can remarry and still collect against your former spouse.

If Your Spouse Was Married Multiple Times

It’s not uncommon for people to marry multiple times, and multiple divorces are just as common. Which one of you has multiple exes impacts potential Social Security benefits.

You married multiple times: If you’ve been married and divorced multiple times, you can still collect Social Security based on your ex. As with most situations, ten years is the magic number. So, in the case of shorter marriages, you likely won’t qualify. And you can only collect a single benefit. If you were married three times, you don’t collect three checks. Sorry.

Your ex married multiple times: As long as your marriage lasted ten years or more, you can still claim Social Security benefits using your ex’s record. In fact, so long as they crossed the ten-year threshold, any former spouses qualify, no matter how many exist. If you meet the requirements, you get the benefits, even if there are other former spouses and even if they also applied.

Social Security And Children

In most situations regarding divorce, the presence of children complicates matters. That’s also the case when it comes collecting Social Security benefits after divorce. If you care for an ex-spouse’s child under the age of 16—the child must also be biologically yours or legally adopted—you qualify to receive benefits on your spouse’s work record at any time, even if the marriage lasted less than ten years. These benefits continue until the child turns 16.

When it comes to long-term marriages, Social Security becomes an important retirement benefit. As with most legal issues, the rules and requirements get complex and tricky. But you may qualify to receive payments based on your ex’s work history. And any benefits your former spouse receives have no bearing on your own Social Security. Even those based on your own work history.

If you have questions about your divorce, feel free to contact Goldberg Jones at our Portland office.

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