Social Security can be an important benefit for older people because it supplies income once one has retired. In general, people become eligible at the age of 62, although benefits taken then are lower than they will be at full retirement age (FRA). FRA is reached between 65 and 67, depending on the year of their birth. (For people born between 1943 and 1954, for example, the FRA is 66.) The Social Security benefit amount rises roughly 8% per year if you work and contribute longer, up to the age of 70. There is no increase past the age of 70.
Will a divorce impact your Social Security benefits? Yes, there are multiple impacts, depending on your situation. Length of the marriage, whether you have worked, how much you made vis-à-vis your spouse, and remarriage are all factors that can affect your benefits.
If Your Spouse Is Eligible for a Higher Benefit
In general, the higher-earning spouse is eligible for a higher benefit, as Social Security benefits are on a sliding scale based on one’s earnings.
If you are divorced, you may be able to collect Social Security benefits based on the work record of a higher-earning spouse, provided that you 1) are not currently married; 2) were married to the spouse for a minimum of 10 years; 3) both of you are at least 62 years old; 4) they are eligible for Social Security; and 5) you have been divorced for a minimum of two years.
The spouse doesn’t have to have taken Social Security for you to be eligible. If your spouse has remarried, there is no effect on your Social Security benefit rights, or that of the spouse and their new spouse.
Bear in mind that you may receive only half of your divorced spouse’s Social Security benefit if you take benefits before your FRA.
If You Are Eligible for a Higher Benefit
If you are eligible for a higher benefit, you will receive your own Social Security benefit rather than your spouse’s. No one can receive both their own Social Security benefit payments and that of a spouse. You will automatically receive the higher of the benefits.
If You Remarry
If you have remarried since you divorced, you are not eligible for a divorced spouse’s benefit unless your remarriage ends as well. If it does, and both marriages lasted over a decade, you will can receive the larger of the two ex-spouse’s Social Security benefit.
If Your Divorced Spouse Dies
If your divorced spouse dies, you are eligible for survivor benefits as long as your marriage lasted 10 years. If it did not, you are not eligible for survivor benefits.
Survivor benefits are equal to what your ex-spouse would have received had they lived.
If you marry again before the age of 60, you will lose your eligibility unless that marriage ends. Remarriage after you’re 60 has no effect on survivor benefits.
If You Need a Divorce Attorney in New York or New Jersey
Because all these factors are complex and variable, it is a good idea to consult a lawyer to make sure you know what Social Security benefits you are entitled to.
At Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, divorce lawyers have been helping clients in New York and New Jersey for over four decades. Call us today to schedule a consultation.
- Miller, Jim T. How Divorce Can Affect Your Social Security. Huffington Post. January 23, 2014. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-t-miller/how-divorce-can-affect-yo_b_4251411.html.
- Thornton, Russ. How Divorced Women Can Get More From Social Security. Wealthcare for Women. December 4, 2012.