How Divorce Will Affect Your Social Security

December 15, 2014

Connect Member

Helping women to make financially intelligent transitions: Your Money, Your Life...InSync

Often, when I ask women to tell me how their Social Security benefits are calculated, unfortunately many of them answer with a shrug. In these cases, the woman may have a husband who is the informed one, but that doesn't help if you are getting a divorce. Of course, no matter what your marital status, you should know the basics of Social Security benefits. However, it's especially important to stay informed if you are divorced or considering one, because a change in marital status can affect your future Social Security benefits in retirement.  

Why is Social Security so important? To put it simply, Social Security provides a reliable retirement income stream that you won’t outlive. For some people, this will be the main source of income after retiring, and for others it will simply be a supplement to a larger income. In either case, you should be well versed in the nuances of Social Security-claiming strategies and your rights to Social Security, to insure you get what you are entitled to and to maximize your benefit.

To help you stay informed, I have compiled the most important information about how divorce affects your Social Security from the United States Social Security Administration’s Official Social Security Website:

Can I collect on my ex-husband’s record if we divorce?
According to the SSA’s website, if you are divorced but your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can receive benefits on your ex-spouse's record (even if he has remarried), if all of the following is true:

  • You are unmarried
  • You are 62 or older
  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits
  • The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the Social Security benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse's work

How is my benefit determined?
If you start receiving benefits when you first become entitled to full or unreduced retirement benefits, your benefit as a divorcee is equal to one-half of your ex-spouse's full retirement amount (or disability benefit). The benefit you are entitled to receive is either this half or the amount calculated based on your own work record, whichever is higher.

Must my husband be collecting Social Security for me to file for benefits on his record?
“If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits, but qualifies for them, you can receive benefits on his or her record if you have been divorced for at least two years,”  the Official Social Security Website states.

If you are eligible for your own retirement benefits, the government will pay that amount first, unless the benefit on your ex-spouse’s record is a higher amount. In that case, you will get a combination of benefits that equals that higher amount (reduced for age).

What happens if I remarry?
Well, the short answer is that all of it changes. “If you remarry, you generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse's Social Security record unless your later marriage ends (whether by death, divorce, or annulment),” according to the Official Social Security Website.

If my ex-spouse is receiving benefits on my record, will that affect my Social Security benefits?
Nope. The benefits your ex-spouse or their current spouse may receive will not be affected by the benefits you receive, and vice versa.

Can I claim Social Security benefits based on my personal work record at 62, which is early retirement age?
Yes, but benefits claimed before full retirement age are reduced. One option would be to first claim reduced benefits on your work record at early retirement age, and then claim benefits based on your ex husband's record at full retirement age.

As always, it pays to stay fully informed and seek appropriate counsel when unsure.

Loretta Hutchinson is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.