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How does divorce affect Social Security benefits?

Divorce can be a challenging, frustrating and costly process at any age. For those who are older, of course, one of the considerations is how divorce will impact the ability to retire. Part of the consideration for this issue is how divorce can affect Social Security benefits, since these benefits are important for many elderly Americans. This question is particularly important for a spouse who doesn’t walk away from divorce with substantial assets to their name.

One of the key issues in considering this question is how long the marriage lasted. Ten years is sort of the magic number, so to speak. When a marriage lasted 10 years or more and the couple has been divorced for at least two years, one can obtain a divorced spousal benefit. This gives a former spouse the ability to either claim either their own benefit or their ex’s benefit. These benefits can be taken early or at full retirement age, which is 66.

An alternative to taking one or the other is taking both benefits. Those who go this route, which is called restricted filing, will first file as a divorced spouse and claim that benefit until they reach an age where their own benefit exceeds it.  Restricted filing is not available to those who begin taking divorce spousal benefits between the age of 62 and 66, which is full retirement age. Also, the spousal benefit must initially be lower than one’s own benefit, and working during the period when one is receiving early benefits—whether spousal or personal—could result in a divorced spouse receiving less. Remarriage will also result in loss of a spousal benefit.

Social Security income is obviously important to those approaching or in retirement and it is important to understand how a divorce can impact this income. Those who have questions should contact an experienced family law attorney for guidance not only on this issue, but on any financial issue related to divorce. 

Source: Fox Business, “5 Ways Divorce Can Impact Your Social Security Benefits,” May 13, 2014. 

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