Understanding your Social Security spousal benefits after divorce
You may be planning to receive Social Security benefits from your spouse’s working career. But what happens to the retirement income you were counting on in the event of divorce? You still have options, and you don’t need to involve your ex-spouse in the process either.
What Social Security benefits are available to spouses?
Married people are entitled to Social Security benefits equal to the larger of:
- Their own benefit from their own work record, or
- 50% of their spouse’s benefit at their full retirement age
This means that if your Social Security benefit from your working years amounts to $700 per month and your spouse’s is $1,500 per month, you receive $750. In this case, you will receive your Social Security benefit of $700 and an additional amount of $50 so that the total benefit equals 50% of your spouse’s benefit.
In addition, your payments will be reduced if you receive them before your full retirement age. Delaying your payments past your full retirement age only increases your payments if you receive your own benefit, not your spousal benefit.
How your Social Security benefits can be affected if you get divorced
Your benefit options (your own benefit or your spousal benefit) don’t change if you divorce. To collect your spousal benefit following a divorce, however, you need to meet additional criteria:
- Your marriage lasted at least 10 years,
- You haven’t remarried,
- You’re not eligible to receive a higher benefit based on your own work record,
- You’re at least 62 years old, and
- Your ex-spouse is eligible to receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits, even if they haven’t decided to start receiving them yet.
If you meet these five criteria, you can still receive your spousal benefit, even if you’re divorced. You must wait at least two years after your divorce is finalized to receive your payments if your ex-spouse hasn’t started receiving their Social Security benefit. If they have, then you don’t have to wait and can start yours immediately if you’d like.
Your ex-spouse’s benefit isn’t affected by your spousal benefit, nor are they notified that you’ve started receiving payments based on their work record. This can help alleviate potential concerns if your relationship didn’t end on good terms.
How your Social Security benefits can be affected if your ex-spouse passes away
Your eligibility criteria and the amount you receive change if your ex-spouse passes away. In fact, the criteria can become a bit easier to meet:
- Your marriage lasted at least 10 years
- You haven’t remarried before age 60 (age 50 if you’re disabled)
- At least 60 years old (50 years old if disabled), or
- Caring for your natural or legally adopted child (who you had or legally adopted with your late ex-spouse) who’s under age 16 or becomes disabled before age 22 (no length of marriage requirement if you meet either childcare requirement)
Instead of receiving spousal benefits, you may now qualify for survivor benefits if you meet these criteria. Survivor benefits range from 71.5% to 100% of your late ex-spouse’s benefit, depending on the age you start to receive the survivor benefit. That means you can get 100% of your late ex-spouse’s benefit at your full retirement age instead of 50% for reaching age 60. You can receive 75% of the amount if you’re eligible due to the childcare factor, regardless of your age. And you can start payments as early as age 60 (instead of 62), albeit at a reduced rate.
Can you still get Social Security spousal benefits if you get divorced and remarry?
It depends on how old you are when you remarry and whether your ex-spouse is still alive.
Remarrying will terminate your spousal benefits if your ex-spouse is still alive, regardless of your age. That’s unless you remarry your ex-spouse.
You can continue to receive survivor benefits and remarry after age 60 (age 50 if you’re disabled). You lose your eligibility and payments if you remarry before age 60. You can regain your survivor benefit eligibility from your first marriage if your later marriage ends due to death, divorce, or annulment.
Divorce shouldn’t push your Social Security plans off the rails
Getting divorced doesn’t prevent you from receiving spousal benefits from your ex-spouse’s working career. It does, however, introduce new criteria you must meet and it may limit your ability to collect Social Security payments from your ex-spouse’s work record if you remarry. When the time comes to apply for benefits, you can be more at ease knowing your ex-spousal benefits can still be available. And your ex-spouse won’t even know if you receive spousal benefits based on their work record, nor will they need to be involved in any way. It’s important to keep your marriage certificate and final divorce decree as they’ll be required to show eligibility for ex-spousal benefits.
Examples used are hypotheticals for illustrative purposes only and and may not be reflective of your situation. Individual circumstances may vary.
The content of this document is for general information only and is believed to be accurate and reliable as of the posting date, but may be subject to change. It is not intended to provide investment, tax, plan design, or legal advice (unless otherwise indicated). Please consult your own independent advisor as to any investment, tax, or legal statements made.
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