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Divorce can impact Social Security benefits

For older people in Texas contemplating divorce, the impact of the end of a marriage on spousal Social Security benefits is an issue that requires careful consideration. First, it is good to know the general rules about qualifying for such benefits. Either a spouse or an ex-spouse can collect spousal Social Security benefits based on the work record and income of their ex-wife or ex-husband. The benefit can be up to one-half of the working spouse's retirement benefit, although it will be reduced if the benefits are taken before the current full retirement age of 66.

The recipient of spousal Social Security benefits must be a minimum of 62 years old, and the marriage must have lasted a minimum of 10 years. As a result, some who are approaching that age and have not yet been married 10 years may wish to postpone the finalization of a divorce for a brief period until the 10-year mark has passed. An ex-spouse cannot collect such spousal benefits if he or she has gotten remarried after the divorce. Additionally, if they would qualify for a higher amount of month Social Security benefits based on their own work record and income, they cannot receive (and should not want) the lower spousal benefits.

Spousal Social Security benefits are particularly valuable to an ex-spouse who has not worked much outside the home, such as a stay at home parent. To receive such benefits after a divorce, their ex-spouse must also be at least 62 and entitled to Social Security benefits, but they need not actually be receiving them or retired. When a person seeking spousal Social Security benefits has an ex-spouse who got remarried, that does not impact on their own eligibility for benefits.

Those collecting spousal Social Security benefits whose ex-spouse then dies can receive 100% of the amount of retirement benefits their ex-spouse was eligible for as a survivor.

Source: The Daily Journal, "Savvy Senior: How divorce can affect your Social Security" No author given, Nov. 14, 2013

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