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What happens to Social Security spousal benefits if you divorce?

On Behalf of | Aug 10, 2021 | Divorce

If you’re considering divorce, you know you’re going to be splitting your property and other assets with your spouse. Even if you have a prenuptial agreement and get a favorable settlement, you’ll likely part with some things you value. 

There’s a lot of confusion out there about what happens to Social Security spousal benefits when you divorce. Whether you’re a long way from qualifying age or it’s just around the corner, you’re counting on Social Security benefits of some kind to help you more easily and comfortably retire.

When can you claim spousal benefits?

So can you still claim spousal benefits if you’re divorced? Could your ex-spouse claim them based on your work record? It depends on a number of factors.

First, it’s important to understand that when someone claims spousal benefits, it takes nothing away from what the wage earner can receive based on the money they paid into the system over the years. A spousal benefit can be up to half of what the retired worker themselves is entitled to receive, depending in part on how old they are when they begin taking the benefits.

To qualify for spousal benefits on an ex-spouse’s work record, you must have been married for at least ten years. You must also not have remarried. If your own Social Security retirement benefits (based on your wages) are greater than the amount you’d receive if you took spousal benefits, you’d get only the benefits on your own record. Social Security always pays people the larger of the two amounts.

How common are spousal benefits?

Social Security spousal benefits were implemented at a time when most wives didn’t work outside the home. Now, with many couples earning roughly the same income, spousal benefits aren’t claimed as often. It is important to note, however, that these are federal entitlements, so they cannot be negotiated away as part of your divorce.

If you were counting on spousal benefits to help you out financially, then it’s essential to understand if and how you can still qualify for them after divorce. You need to have a clear picture of your comprehensive financial situation after divorce so that you can seek the support and property division agreements that will put you in a good position to begin your new life.