Many people who are facing retirement do not know how Social Security benefits
are determined after a change in marital status. If you are divorced,
divorcing, considering divorce or are close to retirement age and considering
remarriage, you may have questions about how divorce and remarriage may
affect the amount of Social Security benefits you are eligible for and
the best time to apply for those benefits.
A very general overview of what you should know about how divorce and marriage
impact Social Security benefits is outlined below. Be aware that the
rules change; there may be exceptions to these general rules and the specific facts
of your situation may differ. Seek the advice of a professional to ensure
you make the best decisions about your social security benefits following
divorce or prior to remarriage.
The Length of the Marriage Matters
If you were married to your spouse or a former spouse for more than ten
(10) years you may be able to claim Social Security benefits based on
your former spouse’s work record, even if he or she has remarried.
To receive benefits under a former spouse’s work record, you must
meet specific criteria. These criteria are listed on the Social Security
Administration website here:
“Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced”
Presently, if you are divorced and your former spouse receives or is eligible
to receive social security benefits based on your work record it has absolutely
no impact on the amount of your retirement benefits, those of another
former spouse claiming benefits on your work record, or benefits a current
spouse may be entitled to. Read more here at the SSA website:
“Retirement Planner: Benefits For Your Divorced Spouse”
Death of Former Spouse
If you were married to a former spouse for more than ten (10) years and
your former spouse dies, you may be eligible to receive benefits just
the same as a widow or widower. There are rules and exceptions. Please
see the Social Security Administration website:
“Survivors Planner: If You're The Worker's Surviving Divorced
If you remarry, you may not be able to collect benefits based on your ex-spouse’s
record, but if you are later divorced, your marriage annulled, or your
newer spouse dies, you may be able to claim benefits under a qualifying
former spouse’s work history. Please see the Social Security Administration
website links above for details.
In most instances, if you are eligible for retirement based on your own
work record and are also eligible to collect benefits through an ex-spouse’s
work record, the Social Security administration will pay your own retirement
benefit first. If the amount of retirement benefits you are eligible for
is lower than the one half (1/2) of the amount of benefits based on your
ex-spouse’s work record, you will receive additional benefits to
make up the difference. This can vary based on your full retirement age,
so you should seek out the advice of a professional before applying for benefits.
Other considerations that you will need to consider include delayed retirement
credits, retirement benefits earning limits, and pensions.
Note that the Social Security Administration can update these rules at
any time. We highly recommend that you review the SSA website regarding
Social Security benefits after a divorce (links above).
When Can You File for an Ex-Spouse’s Social Security Benefits?
You do not need to wait for your ex-spouse to file for social security
benefits to become eligible yourself. If you have been divorced at least
two years and are both at least 62 years of age, you are allowed to make
an independent filing decision that best suits your situation. It is important
to consider when is the best time to apply for an ex-spouse’s benefits
based on your financial circumstances.
Recent changes in social security rules are important to understand before
filing for social security benefits under a former spouse’s work
record if the applicant is also eligible to receive benefits under his
or her own work record. In the past, an individual who was eligible for
retirement benefits under a former spouse’s work record could file
to receive those benefits and delay applying for retirement benefits under
his or her own work record. In 2016, the law changed negatively impacting
this strategy but there are some exceptions. Please see the SSA website
link above for details.
Because divorce and remarriage can add a layer of complexity to a variety
of decisions facing those approaching retirement age, like Social Security
benefits, it is important to consult with an experienced Washington divorce
attorney who can protect your interests and guide you toward better outcomes
for your future. We invite you to
contact a representative at McKinley Irvin to schedule an appointment to discuss your case.
For the latest information about social security benefits please see the
Social Security Administration website at:
You may locate the nearest social security office or schedule an appointment
to talk with a social security representative at:
Or by calling 1-800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.