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Social Security spousal benefits and divorce

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2023 | Divorce |

If you’re going to be divorcing in the new year and you’re nearing the age where you can start collecting Social Security retirement benefits, you may have some questions. You may also have gotten some misinformation from well-meaning family and friends – specifically around spousal benefits.

Spousal benefits are separate from the benefits you’ve earned from your own work. This entitlement cannot be signed away in a divorce, but it also won’t affect you in any way. In fact, your ex-spouse may not even be entitled to receive them.

Why most people can’t get spousal benefits

You can’t claim both your own benefits and spousal benefits. You get whichever of the two is greater. In addition, you can only claim spouse benefits:

  • They were married to their spouse for a minimum of ten years.
  • They haven’t remarried or are currently unmarried.

Likely, your own benefits in your “primary insurance account” and your spouse’s own benefits from their own account will be larger than if either of you claims spousal benefits. That’s because a spouse’s benefit can total no more than half of what the wage earner is entitled to based on their own work history. 

This rule was established back when many married women did not work outside the home, so they would receive – at most – half of what their husbands received from Social Security. Today, most women (married or not) work, and most end up qualifying for a larger retirement benefit on their own. However, in no situation does the claiming of spousal benefits affect the wage earner’s benefit amount. That’s nothing anybody needs to worry about.

If you’re at an age where Social Security retirement benefits will be one of your sources of income in the near future, it’s a good idea to look at how much you’ll be entitled to get each month. That will depend in part on how long you wait to start collecting these benefits. 

Knowing this will help you better negotiate a divorce settlement that will let you comfortably enter your retirement years. Having financial as well as legal guidance can help you make informed decisions.