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What you should know about Social Security benefits and divorce

There’s a good deal of confusion about what happens to the Social Security retirement benefits you’ve accumulated over your years of working when you divorce. Some people think they have to be divided with their spouse like other retirement savings generally do. Many are concerned about losing the right to Social Security spousal benefits if they divorce.

Whether you’re nearing retirement age or it’s still a decade or more away, you want to know that you can count on Social Security benefits to help you support yourself when you retire. You’ll be relieved to know that the benefits you’ve earned based on your work record are yours alone. Spousal benefits can be affected by divorce. However, there’s considerable confusion around them.

Spousal benefits aren’t used as often as they once were

Social Security spousal benefits originated in a time when most women didn’t have full-time jobs outside the home – let alone earn more than their husbands. Your spousal benefits can be up to 50% of your spouse’s Social Security benefit amount at full retirement age (FRA). 

Unless someone hasn’t worked outside the home or earned considerably less than their spouse over the years, they may get more money by taking their own benefits. Further, whether or not your spouse takes spousal benefits based on your work record has no effect on your ability to take your own benefits (and vice versa). Spousal benefits don’t take anything away from what the retired number holder is entitled to have.

When can you lose the chance at spousal benefits if you divorce?

You lose the option to take spousal benefits under two circumstances:

  • Your marriage lasted less than ten years.
  • You get remarried.

If you remarry, you may be able to claim spousal benefits based on your subsequent spouse’s work record after a year of marriage as long as they’ve begun taking their own benefits and you’re at least 62.

If you’re closing in on ten years of marriage or considering getting remarried, it’s worthwhile to determine how much your spousal benefits would be and whether you would even take them before making any life decisions around them. It’s definitely wise to factor in your anticipated Social Security retirement benefits as you make financial decisions in your divorce.

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