Social Security After Divorce

There are many questions and misconceptions about what happens to social security benefits after a divorce.  Many people think that they are entitled to receive part of their ex-spouse’s social security.  Or, they believe that they may have to pay their spouse part of their social security.  This is not true.

Of course, social security rules can be complicated and difficult to pin down.  You don’t always know what you will receive until you apply.  However, the basic rules are as follows:

–          If you have been married more than 10 years, you or your spouse is entitled to have your social security benefit calculated based upon the highest earning spouse.  This is a method of calculation only.  Nothing is taken away from the highest earning spouse.  So, in theory, you both will receive the same amount of social security when you retire at normal retirement age and that amount will be the highest amount that either one of you is entitled to.

–          If you remarry, the above is no longer true while you are married.   If your ex-spouse is remarried, it has no effect on you.  If you have more than one ex-spouse and you are no longer married, you can choose to apply for benefits under your highest earning ex-spouse.

–          If you apply for social security benefits earlier than your normal retirement date, you will still receive an amount you are entitled to based upon the higher earnings record but your benefits will still be reduced because you chose to apply early.

–          If you are already collecting social security benefits which were calculated on your spouse’s earnings, your benefit will not be affected after a divorce.

–          If your ex-spouse dies, you could get a survivor benefit if your marriage lasted ten years or more. You can start receiving a survivor benefit as young as age 60, or age 50 if you are disabled.  A remarriage does not affect this survivor benefit.

The specific rules are set forth on the SSA website here.

Another important divorce fact: social security benefits can be garnished for child support or maintenance (alimony).

4 thoughts on “Social Security After Divorce

  1. If you are already receiving Disability benefits, can you live with your spouse to continue to receive your benefits and health insurance, what happens if you get a divorce and live at the same residence

    • I’m sorry but that is beyond our area of expertise. You will have to consult with an attorney who specializes in social security benefits. Or, you could ask social security as well.

  2. I was married 3 months short of 10 years and was divorced in Feb 1979. I went to SSA when I was 62 and they said I qualified for the 10 rule because Wisconsin law states you have to wait 6 months before getting remarried. Those 6 months would have put me over 10 years. The SSA worker then realized I was under the no fault divorce and she said the rules changed and I don’t qualify. There was some new state legislation put in (09/12/2017) and I wonder if this has changed or not. The SSA worker said if I would have divorced in Dec of 1978 I would have qualified for benefits because the 6 months would have counted. My head is still spinning and it makes me wonder who was right? I sure would like to have seen all of this in black and white.

    • This is very typical of SSA, or any other government agency for that matter. You ask 5 different people and get 5 different answers. I do know that the SSA has recently overhauled a lot of their rules and regulations. However, I could not tell you what is right or wrong. This really isn’t a divorce issue, it is a social security issue and we are not experts in that area. To be honest, I would just call and ask someone else. Or, even better, go to the social security office and talk to someone different. Perhaps someone else can put through the application in such a way to make a difference from you. Sometimes it is just a matter of talking to a sympathetic person! Good luck!

We welcome your comments or questions. We will do our best to try to respond. However, please be advised that we cannot give legal advice in this forum and all communications are for general informational purposes only. Communication should not be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship. This is an open forum and any information you provide may be posted and will not be held confidentially. By posting a comment or question, you are expressly giving consent for the publication of same. If you have any specific legal issues or concerns, we always recommend that you consult with an attorney in the county and state in which you reside.

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