Social Security retirement benefits can make up a significant portion of the income you plan to enjoy in retirement. But what if a former spouse wants to claim benefits based on your income rather than their own? Will that reduce your benefits?
Benefits for Spouses and Former Spouses
Someone who is currently married or who has been married can apply for retirement benefits based on their spouse’s income, in many situations, regardless of whether they worked and earned their own benefits. Your divorced spouse can receive benefits on the basis of your earnings record if all of the following are true:
- The marriage lasted at least ten years;
- Your former spouse is at least 62-years-old;
- You are eligible to receive retirement or disability benefits from the Social Security Administration;
- The amount your former spouse would receive based on their own work record is less than they would receive based on yours.
Note that your ex can start to receive benefits based on your earning record even if you are not yet receiving benefits, as long as you’re allowed to. For instance, if you decide to wait until age 70 to start collecting retirement benefits so that you’ll receive a higher amount each month, your former spouse does not need to wait. They can apply as soon as you become eligible for benefits, so long as you’ve been divorced for at least two years.
Effect of Former Spouse Collecting Benefits
A former spouse’s decision to apply for benefits based on your work record does not affect your benefits or those of your new spouse if you have remarried. If your ex decides to collect benefits at age 62, that former spouse will receive less each month than if they waited until full retirement age, but their actions will not affect you at all.
You will still receive your full benefits, and your new spouse can receive full spousal benefits. While divorce can be costly in many respects, it does not harm your Social Security income benefits.
How Much Does a Divorced Spouse Receive?
If your ex waits until reaching full retirement age before applying for derivative benefits, they can receive half of your full retirement amount. In situations where they decide to claim benefits before they reach the full retirement age, the amount they will receive each month will be less than that. The Social Security Administration uses sliding scales to determine percentage amounts based on age at the time of applying for benefits.
Managing Relationships During and After Divorce
Many formerly married couples still have close financial ties to one another, even if Social Security treats them as separate entities. Couples who had children together, owned property, or operated a business together may need to manage financial affairs cooperatively for some years after the marriage ends.
Often, it is helpful to have a family law attorney negotiate or memorialize agreements so that both former partners understand their obligations, and so that if one fails to live up to responsibilities, the other can take legal action to protect their rights. If you would like help establishing or renegotiating an agreement with your former spouse, we invite you to contact the team at Koiles Pratt Family Law Group for a confidential consultation to learn how we could assist.