Divorce And Social Security

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The following issues concerning divorce and social security are important to keep in mind when approaching divorce later in life.


Will I be eligible to receive 50% of his benefits?

Martha's Question: My husband and I divorced after being married for 26yrs. I am 52 and he is 59. When I reach 62, will I be eligible to collect 50% of his social security? His income was substantially higher than mine.

Timothy's Answer: Your question about future social security benefits is a question that comes up common regularly. The short answer to your question is “yes”. Essentially, you will be entitled to collect retirement benefits based on his social security schedule if you were married to your husband for at least 10 years before getting divorced. To qualify, your ex-husband must be eligible to receive benefits or is currently receiving them, and you must be at least 62 years old. If you worked in the past, the amount you are eligible for is 50% of your husband's benefits or the benefits which are based on your earnings, whichever is greater. In your situation, your spouse was the higher wage earner, so you will likely receive 50% of his benefits.

The exception to this rule is if you remarry. But if your second marriage were to later end due to death or divorce, you would be eligible once again. The Social Security Administration is a great resource for questions related to divorce and social security benefits. You can reach them on-line by visiting their website at www.ssa.gov or by telephone at 1-800-772-1213.

Should I wait until he starts receiving benefits before I file for divorce?

Linda's Question: My husband will soon reach full retirement eligibility for Social Security. Since we have a dependent child, he will also get benefits. Do I file for divorce before this comes into effect, or do I wait until after it has commenced and use it as child support?

Timothy's Answer: Since both you and your husband will be eligible to receive your full retirement benefits in October, you will qualify for what is referred to as "derivative" benefits from your spouse. If by waiting until October allows you to meet the marriage provision term of at least 10 years and you are the lower paid spouse, then it is certainly worth waiting until this time. However, if you already have met the 10 year marriage requirement, then waiting until October should not have a significant impact on the benefits you are eligible to receive. As long as you have been married ten years, you are already eligible to receive one half his benefit amounts, assuming you have both met the age requirement of 62 and he will be entitled to receiving his full benefits then. Please be aware, if you remarry, you will not be eligible to receive benefits on your former spouse's unless your marriage formally ends.

Child support is affected by social security benefits and typically is included in determining the parent's income. Hence, any benefit the parent paying child support receives will help determine the initial child support obligation. You should check with your state's child support guidelines to determine the way in which they view child support as it pertains to gross income.

Am I entitled to a widow's pension if our divorce wasn't finalized?

Jan's Question: I was married over 40 years ago and thought I was divorced two years after we married, but I recently found out the divorce was never finalized. He passed away a few years ago. Would I be eligible to draw on his pension as a widow pension since I'm not married and over 60?

Brette's Answer: If the divorce was never finalized, you may be eligible. It really depends on what happened and what prevented finalization. » Return to top

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