Social Security and Divorce: What You Need to Know

Social Security and Divorce: What You Need to Know

If you are near retirement age, you may be thinking about Social Security. Social Security can seem like a complicated system. You pay into it over time, but then what happens? At what age can you receive these benefits? When do you reach full retirement? How much will you receive? What will happen if you are divorced?

While you likely have many questions about receiving Social Security benefits, one thing you should understand is that you do not lose out on your right to benefits once you divorce your spouse. If you meet certain requirements, you can receive monthly payments based on your ex-spouse’s work record. This can be a great help financially if you are receiving payments but they are very low, or you do not qualify for any benefits at all.

The possibility of benefits to help you pay bills in retirement is one of the few advantages of divorcing after a long marriage. Make sure to maximize your Social Security benefits so you do not lose out on thousands of dollars. Here are some things you should know about receiving Social Security benefits after a divorce.

Receiving Your Ex-Spouse’s Social Security Benefits

Receiving your ex-spouse’s benefits is not automatic. Not every divorced person is eligible to receive benefits. To receive your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits, you must meet several requirements. First, your ex-spouse must be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on his or her work record. If he or she is eligible, then you must have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years. You must be age 62 or older and unmarried. In addition, your ex-spouse’s benefits must be more than your own. If your amount is greater, then you are not eligible for your ex-spouse’s.

Note that you can collect on your ex-spouse’s record even if he or she has remarried. However, you cannot claim their benefits if you have remarried. If you remarry while claiming your ex-spouse’s benefits, then those benefits will end. You will not be able to claim benefits again until your current marriage ends.

If your ex-spouse has not claimed his or her benefits yet, but you are eligible for them, you must wait two years after the divorce has been finalized.

What to Consider

The longer you can delay receiving your benefits, the better. You can opt to start receiving Social Security benefits at age 62, but your benefit will be reduced. You will reap the most benefits if you wait until your full retirement age. Full retirement age is based on your year of birth, and ranges from age 66 to 67. At full retirement age, you will receive 100% of your benefits. You will receive the highest amount of benefits if you delay your benefits until age 70. At that point, you will receive 132% of your benefits.

As a divorced spouse, your benefit amount is equal to half of your ex-spouse’s retirement amount if you wait until your full retirement age. The maximum amount a person can receive in Social Security benefits per month is $3,538.

If you are eligible for benefits based on both your ex-spouse’s and your own work record, the Social Security Administration will compare the two amounts and you will get the higher one. You have an advantage if you were born before January 2, 1954. If you have reached full retirement age, you can opt to receive just your ex-spouse’s benefit for now and delay yours until a later date. If you were born after  January 2, 1954, if you file for one benefit, you must take both.

You can work and receive Social Security benefits. However, an earning limit applies and your benefits will be reduced based on the amount you receive. Social Security withholds $1 in benefits for every $2 in excess earnings. If you are retiring after 2019, the exempt amount is $17,640, which means you can earn this much money without seeing your benefits reduced. If you receive a government pension, that can affect your benefits, as well.

You should understand that your benefit amount does not affect the amount of benefits your ex-spouse or their current spouse will receive. Therefore, you should not feel as though you are “stealing” those benefits. You are entitled to them. Your ex will receive the same amount of benefits whether or not you choose to collect.

If your ex-spouse has died, and you are eligible to receive Social Security benefits, you may be eligible to receive survivor’s benefits. Even if you remarried after age 60, you can still receive these benefits. Visit the Social Security website to learn more.

The process can be confusing for many people. Plus, many do not know that they can claim their ex-spouse’s benefits, which can be a great help during retirement. Contact a financial professional or lawyer who specializes in Social Security matters to ensure you receive the benefits you are entitled to receive.

Seek Legal Help

When divorcing, make sure you understand all the benefits available to you. Social Security payments on your spouse’s work record can result in hundreds of extra dollars each month. This can result in thousands of extra dollars over your lifetime, which can make a big difference if you are struggling with your finances.

Get help managing your finances after a divorce. Palm Beach divorce attorney Scott J. Stadler can help you understand the benefits you are entitled to receive. Learn more by calling (954) 346-6464.