Nov 29, 2021
Social Security and Divorce
Social security was instituted in 1935. At that time, it was very rare for both spouses to be employed outside the home. A spousal benefit was created to allow the lesser earning spouse to take part in the social security safety net. The spousal benefit allows the lesser earning spouse to claim benefits based on the higher earning spouse or what we will call for these purposes, the “primary spouse.”
The spousal benefit of social security does not end with a divorce. Debbie Y. Schneider, Esq., and Attorney-Mediator at Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation discusses the rules that must be followed precisely in order to successfully make a claim.
Often divorcing spouses are delighted to find out that the spousal benefit does not end with a divorce, and they are often grateful to discover that they have access to a completely unknown source of income. There are a number of rules, however, that must be followed precisely in order to successfully make this claim.
You must have been married more than ten (10) years, and divorced more than two (2) years. Both parties must be over the age of 62, but the primary spouse does not have to have started receiving benefits. The primary spouse’s marital status is not relevant; that person can be remarried. The amount of the spousal benefit is up to 50% of the amount of the primary spouse’s benefit, but double dipping is not allowed. If you have earned benefits under your own social security account, you are entitled to the higher of the two benefits, but not to both. As with most federal entitlement programs, there are a significant number of nuanced variations to this program. For more in depth analysis, I recommend that you visit the SSA website. Set up an account, view your benefits and ask questions. It is a robust website, and although it takes some effort to find answers to your questions, it is the best resource for information.
Full retirement age, or FRA, used to be 65, but the rules have now been adjusted and is based on the year of your birth. The FRA for those born after 1960 is now 67. It is possible to take benefits as soon as a person has their 62nd birthday, but most financial analysts recommend that most people postpone receipt for as long as possible. If you can postpone benefits until age 70, you will receive what
is essentially a bonus of a modest percentage increase, without any additional contributions to your account.
Finally, understand that Social Security is a federal entitlement. It is never governed by state and local divorce laws.