Your divorce can affect how much you receive from Social Security – Community News
Social Security

Your divorce can affect how much you receive from Social Security

As you retire, you may find that your current spouse no longer encompasses your ideal life.

You are not alone. According to the US Census Bureau, the percentage of people who are divorced is highest in the 55 to 64 age group.

Even though you may want to end your marriage, there may be reason to pause those plans.

You may be able to claim Social Security retirement benefits on your ex-spouse’s work record. But the timing of your divorce can affect your eligibility to do so.

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Divorced people can only access former spouse benefits if they have been married for 10 years or more, according to David Freitag, a financial planning consultant and social security expert at MassMutual.

“That’s a huge, huge advantage,” he said.

Still, some people don’t know that this strategy is available to them. A MassMutual survey last year found that 30% of individuals were unaware that a divorcee might be able to receive Social Security benefits on their ex-spouse’s earnings.

Why the 10-year mark is so important

For divorcing couples, taking this Social Security strategy into account can make a big difference.

During a presentation on Social Security, Freitag met a woman who had just been divorced after being married for nine years and six months.

“Had she waited six months, she would have had access to a substantial partner’s benefit from her ex-husband,” Freitag said.

If you claim a benefit from your ex, a so-called partner allowance is created, which is worth a maximum of 50% of the pension benefit.

In 2022, Social Security’s maximum monthly retirement benefit is $3,345 per month for those retiring at full retirement age. The difference between half of that — about $1,672 a month — and zero may be an incentive for some couples to stick with it for 10 years, noted Davon Barrett, a chief adviser and certified financial planner at Francis Financial, a New York-based wealth administration office specializing in divorce planning.

The company’s clients going through divorce are advised that they may be able to withdraw their retirement benefits at their own work record or at half of their spouse’s, whichever is higher, Barrett said.

“That provides a little safety net in some people’s minds,” Barrett said.

Should your ex-spouse die, you may have access to substantial benefits for the rest of your life.

David Freitag

financial planning consultant at MassMutual

Importantly, those benefits are also available to same-sex couples, provided they’ve been married for 10 years or more, Freitag noted.

If you claim your ex-spouse and they remarry, you can still claim these benefits.

But you may want to think twice about remarrying yourself, which will make you ineligible to claim against your ex’s criminal record. According to the Social Security Administration, you must also be age 62 or older and be entitled to retirement or disability benefits.

What happens if your ex dies?

If your ex-spouse passes away, you may be eligible for a so-called death benefit, which is worth up to 100% of monthly checks. Again, the 10-year rule for how long you have been married applies here.

“One day in the future, if your ex-husband dies, it’s entirely possible that you’ll have access to a significant benefit for the rest of your life,” Freitag said.

Here, too, certain other rules must be complied with. For example, if you remarry after age 60, that won’t affect your entitlement to survivor benefits on your ex-spouse’s record.

Specifically, if you qualify for these strategies, it’s best to assume that you need to bring it to the attention of the Social Security Administration.

“When there is potentially that much money available, I think you should be your own advocate,” Freitag said.