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How Divorce Affects Social Security Benefits

Besides child custody, spousal support, and property division, Social Security benefits can also be substantially impacted by the terms of a divorce. The most important rule to understand regarding divorce is that for marriages that lasted ten years or more, the lower earning spouse can be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits based on the record of the higher earning spouse. Many individuals who are eligible for Social Security benefits are unaware of how these benefits are affected by changes in marital status. Under the government’s terms, individuals may still be able to file for Social Security benefits even after a divorce. To file for Social Security benefits, an individual can make an independent Social Security benefit filing if the individual has been divorced for at least two years and both individuals are at least 62 years of age. Nationally, marriages that end in divorce last an average of 9.8 years, which means that many lower earning spouses might be ineligible to collect Social Security retirement benefits based on the higher earning spouse’s record. This article will discuss some essential elements to understand about how divorce impacts Social Security benefits.

  • The Death of a Former Spouse. Spouses who were married for more than ten years where a former spouse dies might also be eligible to receive benefits.
  • The Length of the Marriage Matters. Spouses who were married for more than ten years may be able to claim Social Security benefits based on the former spouse’s work record. To be eligible to receive Social Security benefits under a former spouse’s work records, however, an individual must meet specific criteria. In case an individual has been married for more than ten years, the individual may file for Social Security benefits will receive only the higher of two amounts, either the individual’s or the former spouse’s Social Security benefits.
  • If At All Possible, Wait to Claim Social Security Benefits. While individuals can begin taking Social Security benefits at the age of 62, any benefit amount that would be taken before the retirement age of 65 will be less than the full half of the higher earning spouse’s benefits.
  • Former spouses who are eligible for retirement based on their own work record and also eligible to collect benefits through an ex-spouse’s work records will receive Social Security benefits paid through the individual’s own retirement benefits first. Other limitations occur based on delayed retirement credits, pensions, and retirement benefits earning limits.
  • The Higher of Two Limits. Individuals are only allowed to collect a former spouse’s Social Security benefits if the former spouse’s earning history is higher than the amount of Social Security benefits that would otherwise be collected.
  • Spouses who remarry might not be able to collect benefits based on a former spouse’s records. If certain events occur, individuals who later divorce might be able to claim benefits under a qualifying former spouse’s work history.

If you are considering filing for Social Security benefits, it is important to consult with the experienced and seasoned Houston divorce attorneys at Conner & Lindamood, P.C. who understand how to reach the best outcomes regarding these benefits.

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