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).