What You Should Know About Social Security and Divorce

Few things rock a person’s finances harder than a divorce. And if you were a stay-at-home parent who left a career to take care of the kids while your spouse worked full-time, you may find yourself worried about your financial future and retirement down the line.

Washington state law calls for divorce settlements to reflect an equitable division of marital property. Financial security is generally one of the top concerns for those going through a divorce, and it can be even more concerning for those whose spouse was the sole breadwinner of the household—especially so if the divorce occurs later in life. 

But did you know that in addition to being awarded alimony, you might also be eligible to claim your former spouse’s Social Security benefit? This can go a long way to providing financial stability in retirement.

Can I claim a spousal Social Security benefit?

Worried about post-divorce retirement because you weren’t the income-earner in your household? You may be able to claim a spousal benefit of up to 50 percent of your ex-partner’s total Social Security benefit. 

Generally, you will be awarded whichever benefit is greater of the two between what you and your ex-spouse are eligible for—you will not receive both. The Social Security Administration Office will assess and calculate the amount to which you and your spouse are respectively entitled.

How do I know if I am eligible?

There are a few ground rules in terms of eligibility. For starters, you need to have been legally married for a minimum of 10 years, and you can’t be currently remarried. You also must meet the basic eligibility requirements for claiming Social Security—you cannot start claiming benefits until the age of 62. 

How much of the Social Security benefit will I receive?

As stated above, you are only eligible for 50 percent (or less) of your ex-partner’s Social Security benefit. However, if your ex passes before you, you are eligible to receive their benefits in full.

It is important to remember that you can only claim the full value of your ex’s benefit amount when the full retirement age is reached. Conversely, if you claim benefits before you’re eligible for full retirement yourself, you will receive a reduced benefit.

Can I claim benefits if I am still working?

You can work while you receive benefits, but the income you earn may impact the size of your benefit. If you are bringing home more than the Social Security annual earnings limit and are younger than full retirement age, your benefit will be reduced.

 How much will your benefit be reduced by? Your benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn above the yearly earning limit (currently for 2021, the limit is $18,960). Once you reach the age of full retirement, Social Security will not reduce your benefits, regardless of how much you are earning. 

What if I remarry?

Individuals who remarry forfeit their former partner’s benefits during the duration of that marriage. If that marriage ends—regardless of whether it is terminated by annulment, divorce, or death—you will again qualify for your first spouse’s Social Security if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. If your ex remarries, your benefits will not be impacted.

If your current spouse passes away and your marriage must have been valid for at least 9 months to be eligible to collect spousal benefits. Additionally, if your former spouse is deceased, you can start collecting benefits as a surviving spouse at the age of 60 (age 50 if you are disabled).

Remember, Social Security benefits aren’t automatic—you must apply. To apply for Social Security, you need to be able to provide either: Your former spouse’s Social Security Identification Number or be able to provide their place of birth and birthdate along with the names of your spouse’s parents.

If you are eligible, you can apply online at ssa.gov or you can phone the Social Security administration at 1-800-772-1213. You can also make a physical appointment at your local Social Security office.


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