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Social Security and Divorce

By Edited Nov 17, 2015 4 11

How to Include Retirement Planning in Your Divorce

If you are divorced after at least 10 years of marriage, and have remained single, you may qualify to receive Social Security benefits based on the earnings of your former spouse. Because of this, if you are considering divorce, and have been married nearly 10 years, you may wish to take this information into consideration as you plan your divorce. Below are some facts that you need to know in order to make retirement planning part of your divorce.


First, the most important thing you need to be aware of is that there are special Social Security benefits available to couples who have been married at least 10 years. These benefits are especially important for the person who has earned the least money during the marriage. If, in fact, one of the spouses has been a stay-at-home parent or has only worked part-time over the years, the amount of benefits they might receive based on their own earnings could be quite low.  On the other hand, if they are able to eventually receive an amount equal to one half of what their spouse receives, it could help them considerably after they retire.

This benefit is only available, though, if the couple has been married at least ten years.  After you have been married at least that long prior to the divorce, you will be qualified to collect on your former spouse's earnings as long as you are not married to someone else at the time you file for Social Security benefits. If you are married to someone else at the time you file, then you are required to collect on your own earnings, or the earning of your current spouse.

There are many strategies for getting the most out of your federal benefits.  You may also want to use this direct link to read "Social Security for Dummies" so you are confident that you have maximized your benefits before you retire.

How does the Social Security benefit for divorced spouses work? Let's say that Mike and Lynn get divorced after 10 years of marriage. Mike always earned more than Lynn, and Mike has now remarried, but Lynn has remained single. When Lynn reaches her full retirement age of 66 or 67, she can claim Social Security benefits on her own earnings or she can claim benefits that would be equal to 1/2 of Mike's benefit, whichever is greater. Let's say that Lynn's benefits would come to $800 a month, while Mike is going to be collecting $2200 a month at full retirement age. Lynn would then be eligible to get $1100 (or 1/2 of Mike's benefit amount) when she reaches her full retirement age. This WILL NOT affect Mike's Social Security benefits, nor will it affect what his current wife will receive! In fact, Mike could have several ex-wives and each of them could receive the $1100 benefit, as long as they had each stayed married to him for a minimum of ten years, they were still single, and they waited until their full retirement age before they collect.

There are also prorated benefits with variable amounts based on whether Lynn or Mike claim their Social Security early, or wait longer than age 66. For example, if Lynn filed a claim on Mike's benefits at age 62, she would only be eligible for about 1/3 of his benefit, or about $733.   However, benefits that were based on her own earnings would also be much lower, so it is likely that she would still be better off submitting a claim based on her ex-husband's earnings. Lynn would have to evaluate which amount was greater, with the assistance of a claims administrator in the Social Security office.

It is important to consider these benefits both when you do your retirement planning, as well as when you plan your divorce! Always investigate retirement complications whenever you make any life changing decision in your life. For example, in some cases you may be eligible for some portion of your spouse's other retirement benefits, 401K savings, private pension plans, etc., when you get a divorce.

Whenever you make a major decision in your life ... divorce, remarriage, retirement, etc. ... it is always wise to consult with an attorney, as well as government agencies such as the Social Security Administration, to see how these decisions will affect your retirement benefits and other life plans.

You can find out more information at www.socialsecurity.gov or you can make an appointment at your local Social Security office. I have found the employees there to be very helpful.

Other articles which you may be interested in reading are:

The New Healthcare Law, Medicare, and You

One of the Best Places to Retire is Laguna Woods Village, California

How to Prove You Don't Owe a Debt

Personal Safety Tips for Women

Learn More About Your Benefits

Read This BEFORE You Reach Your Retirement Age

This book will give you additional information about how to maximize your benefits and have a more comfortable retirement.


May 17, 2010 7:21pm
Good info to know and take into consideration of SS and divorce. Thank you
May 17, 2010 10:09pm
Really good information here. It certainly pays to get yourself informed. Great article!
May 23, 2010 3:34pm
Good informative article.
May 24, 2010 1:01am
Excellent instruction and great information about Social Security and Divorce. Thanks for sharing, 5* plus recommendation!
May 24, 2010 11:58am
interesting article. I was just reading your profile and it says you've been married for nearly 40 years. That is amazing. Good on you!
Sep 15, 2010 11:03pm
Despite the fact that I have been married nearly 40 years, I have many divorced friends. For those who are able to collect Social Security based on the income of a former spouse, their retirement years have been a bit more comfortable. I hope more people who are considering divorce will consider Social Security as they make their plans.
Oct 9, 2010 2:38am
Great info! Now that the rate of divorce seems to be on the rise, couples will definitely find this information useful. It's best to consult with a lawyer as well just to be one the safe side.
Oct 9, 2010 11:27pm
I absolutely agree that people should use a lawyer when getting a divorce. There are so many things to consider, it is not a do it yourself project!
Dec 9, 2010 5:15pm
Good article with very important information that should help many people. Thanks for sharing.
Dec 11, 2014 6:57pm
Everyone really needs to understand their Social Security benefits, especially since they may be dependent on them for as much as 1/3 of their life!
Dec 12, 2014 1:11pm
Wow, Deborah--what a topic--two big thumbs and a rating from me.
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