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Social Security spousal benefits and divorce: What to know

On Behalf of | Mar 18, 2023 | Divorce

If you’re considering divorce – particularly if you’re nearing or in your 60s — you may have some questions about if or how it will affect your potential for receiving Social Security spousal benefits. These are based on your spouse’s work record. 

There’s a lot of confusion around just what these are and who can receive them. Let’s take a brief look at them and dispel some misconceptions:

Most people are better off taking their own benefits

Spousal benefits can be as high as 50% of the benefits your current or former spouse would earn at their full retirement age (currently 66-67 years old) based on their own work record. Social Security will pay you the larger of the benefits you could be due based on your work record or on your spouse’s record. Unless your spouse has always out-earned you by a considerable amount, your benefits will likely exceed your spousal benefits.

Spousal benefits take nothing away from the benefits anyone else receives

Your spouse is still entitled to their full benefits, no matter how many current or former spouses are getting spousal benefits based on their work history. If you take spousal benefits, it also won’t affect any of their other former spouse’s spousal benefits. Therefore, your soon-to-be-ex should have no concerns about this.

You can still get spousal benefits after divorce – with two important caveats

As long as you were married to your spouse for at least 10 years you can qualify. If you remarry, however, you no longer can.

Once you choose spousal benefits, you can’t switch to your own

If you still plan to work for a number of years before you hit your own full retirement age and you anticipate that your income is only going to rise, it’s important to think about whether you may be better off taking your own benefits. Social Security doesn’t allow you to switch later.

This is just a brief overview of Social Security spousal benefits so that you can get the necessary guidance you need from tax and financial advisors prior to deciding. You’ll also want to know what your soon-to-be-ex’s benefits will be so that you better know what numbers you’re comparing. Having an idea of what your Social Security retirement income will be can help you and your legal team better work toward a fair settlement in your divorce.