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Divorce in Retirement: Does Divorce Impact Social Security Benefits?

Similar to changes involved with getting married, you'll want to pay attention to how divorce and remarriage affect your Social Security. For instance, a name change must be reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for your earnings to be correctly reported, while remarriage will have an effect on survivor benefits.

In essence, if you have been married 10 years or more, you will likely continue to receive your share of the Social Security benefits. You would not get your ex's benefits if you were married for less than ten years. Getting remarried and other factors can change your benefits.

It's not too complicated, but make sure you understand your rights and take care of these things right away during a divorce.

How Long Do You Need to Be Married Before You Can Collect Benefits?

You must have been married for at least ten years to collect spousal benefits.

How Much Social Security Does an Ex-Spouse Get?

This is essential to know during your divorce financial planning. You will need to get your spouse's or ex-spouse's Social Security benefits statement to understand what exists in their retirement savings. This is especially important if you do not have your own earnings or work history.

When you reach full retirement age, you will receive full or unreduced benefits and 50% of the retirement savings account. If you have your own benefits, you will typically receive that amount first. If your spouse has a higher benefit than you, you will also get money from your spouse's record.

Currently, full retirement age is age 66 and will soon be age 67. You can ask to receive Social Security benefits as young as 62 years old, but the amount you receive will be reduced. If you or your spouse delays their retirement age, then you might be eligible for delayed retirement credits. These increase your monthly benefit.

Can You Continue to Collect Social Security After Divorcing Your Spouse?

You can only collect Social Security after divorcing your spouse if:

  • You were married for ten years
  • You have not gotten remarried*
  • Your ex is eligible to collect Social Security or disability benefits
  • Your own retirement benefits are less than your ex-spouse's benefits
  • You are age 66 or older
  • You have been divorced at least two years

*Getting remarried will usually cancel out your previous spouse's benefits.

How Is Social Security Divided During a Divorce?

Social Security can be divided in many ways. Still, it is typical for each spouse to get 50% of the retirement account. Social Security rules may apply, or you may qualify for a higher amount or additional benefits. Divorcees need to talk with an attorney to ensure each side gets what they are owed.

A delayed retirement can change when you get your benefits and how much they will be. All in all, a delayed retirement is better than early retirement, so your benefits are not reduced.

Can You Collect Social Security From a Deceased Ex-Spouse?

Yes, you will get their full retirement benefit if your ex-spouse passes away. You will receive Social Security when you retire at 62 or older. Delaying your Social Security until 65 or 67 ensures you get the full amount (retiring before 67 can result in 0-15% less in benefits until you reach age 67).

How Divorce Affects Survivors' Benefits

If your divorced spouse dies, you can receive benefits as a widow/widower if the marriage lasted 10 years or more. However, you won't have to meet the length-of-marriage requirement if you're caring for your deceased ex-spouse's child who's under the age of 16 or disabled. Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse who is 60 or older will not affect the benefit rates for other survivors receiving benefits.

Keep in mind that your ex-spouse's family won't be notified if you apply for survivor benefits through the SSA. Also, there's no limit to how many people may apply for benefits from a single Social Security account.

How Remarriage Affects Survivors' Benefits

In general, you can't receive survivors benefits if you remarry before the age of 60 unless the latter marriage ends, whether by death, divorce, or annulment. If you remarry after age 60 (50 if disabled), you can still collect benefits on your former spouse's record.

When you reach age 66 or older, you may get retirement benefits from your new or current spouse's record if it is higher. Your remarriage would have no effect on the benefit amount being paid to your children.

Changing Your Name on Your Social Security Card

If you change your name, be sure to tell both Social Security and your employer. This will ensure that your earnings will be reported appropriately by your employer and recorded. 

You can get a new card from Social Security with your new name. To prove your date of birth, you'll need to provide a copy of your birth certificate, final adoption decree, or other suitable documentation. You'll need a U.S. driver's license, state I.D., or passport to prove your identity.

Concerned About Divorce, Remarriage, and Social Security? Talk to a Lawyer

You can learn more about Social Security at SSA.gov. A divorce can affect many things in your life, even after you've passed away. It is important to understand the legal aspects of marriage dissolution from retirement benefits to changing your name on your Social Security card.

Let an experienced divorce attorney in your state help you make the best decisions regarding divorce, remarriage, and Social Security — putting your mind at ease.

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