Social security is probably one of the last things you think about if you are going through a divorce. But divorce can actually have significant consequences for how much of one Social security benefit you get when you reach retirement age. In some cases, you may get an even bigger benefit than you expected, but in others, you may not get anything at all. Here’s a look at how divorce and social security are related and how you can best plan ahead to ensure you receive the maximum number of benefits possible.
Qualification under your own work record
The Social Security Administration calculates pension benefits primarily on the work record of the retiring person. You can qualify for your own social security benefits by amassing at least 40 “quarters of coverage,” typically spanning a work record of 10 or more years. When you reach the age of 67, you will receive your full benefit, although it can be lowered by claiming benefits at age 62 or increased by waiting until as late as age 70. If you qualify for your own social benefits, your divorce may not have any effect on your payout. SSA will compare the benefit calculated using your own work journal and compare it with any potential spouse benefit you may qualify for and you will receive the higher of the two.
Spouse benefits for shorter marriages
Unfortunately, many spouses are not eligible for their own social benefits, especially if they were stay-at-home spouses before the divorce. If you were married for less than 10 years before you were divorced, you are not entitled to any kind of spousal benefit. This can cause some difficulties if you were a stay-at-home spouse without a job. In that case, you will not be left with any social security at all and you will have to rely on your external savings and investment accounts to fund your pension.
Spouse benefits if you have been married for at least 10 years
If you were married for at least 10 years before you got divorced, you are lucky in terms of social benefits. Spouses who have been married for at least ten years are entitled to the same spousal benefits as if they remained married. There is no penalty for the former spouse who is still receiving his or her own full pension benefit.
Remember, however, that you are not entitled to a spouse benefit if you have remarried unless you were over 60 years of age at the time of your remarriage.
How much does a spousal benefit cost?
Basic spouse benefit is 50% of the amount paid to the primary recipient – also known as your former spouse. However, if you retire before full retirement age, as for those born after 1960 is 67 years old, then your benefit will be reduced. If you claim your benefit as early as possible, at the age of 62, your benefit may fall from 50% to 32.5% of the primary worker’s benefit. With your own social security benefit, the waiting period for 70 years gives an increased payment, but this is not the case in the case of spouse benefits, which amount to a maximum of 50% of the primary recipient’s amount. But even that amount can be generous if you are not entitled to your own social security benefit due to the lack of a work journal.
Different rules for those born before January 2, 1954
If you were born before January 2, 1954, you can still claim benefits under the “Archives and Suspend” strategy. This means that you can apply for your spouse’s benefits at full retirement age and immediately suspend your own primary benefits. So when your maximum benefits are out by the age of 70, you can switch from your spouse benefit to your own, probably higher benefit by the age of 70. This practice is no longer allowed, but it is grandfather-in for those born before the specified date.
How to claim a spouse’s social security benefit
The easiest way to claim a spouse’s social security benefit is online. You can also visit a Social Security office or call SSA’s national toll-free service at 800-772-1213. You must provide documents proving your eligibility, such as your birth certificate, proof of citizenship or legal alien status, and your final divorce decree. The SSA will also ask you for some basic identification information, such as your name, gender, social security number and place of birth. You will also be asked for your employment information along with information about your marriage (ies). Assuming you are eligible, you will then indicate the date when you would like to start withdrawing benefits and SSA will handle the remainder.
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