What happens with my Social Security if I get a divorce?
If you are going through a divorce, you might be wondering how it will affect your Social Security benefits—and the benefits of your ex-spouse. These benefits depend on several factors, including the length of your marriage, your age, and your marital status down the road.
First and foremost, Social Security benefits after a divorce depend on the length of the marriage. If you were married for 10 years or more, you are entitled to benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, even if he or she has since gotten remarried. If you were married for less than 10 years, you are unable to collect spousal Social Security benefits.
“…the system provides a better deal to divorcées who have stuck it out in their marriage for 10 years or more,” said Larry Kotlikoff, a noted economist, author, and professor at Boston University in a piece for PBS NewsHour. “The system permits both divorced spouses (assuming they don’t remarry) to collect full spousal benefits after reaching full retirement age, while postponing the collection of their own retirement benefit until age 70.”
If you start receiving benefits at full retirement age, you are entitled to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount. As long as the following are true (and your marriage lasted 10 years or longer), you are eligible for spousal benefits:
- You are unmarried.
- You are 62 years old or older.
- Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
- The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.
However, if you remarry, you cannot collect benefits on your ex-spouse’s record—unless the marriage ends.
If the benefit you would receive from your ex-spouse is greater than the benefit you would receive from your own work, you are eligible for a combination of benefits that equals the greater amount. In addition, if you reach full retirement age and you are eligible for both your ex-spouse’s benefit and your own benefit, you can choose to receive only your ex-spouse’s benefits for now and delay your own retirement benefits until a later date. (This can also be beneficial by giving you a higher benefit later on due to Delayed Retirement Credits.)
Keep in mind that Social Security benefits paid to your spouse do not decrease your own retirement benefit. Rather, the value of the benefits paid to him or her may help you decide whether or not it is in your best interest to take your benefits sooner.