What you should know about Social Security spousal benefits

On Behalf of | Jan 9, 2024 | Property Division |

If you’re considering or plan to be divorcing this year and you’re approaching the age when you can collect Social Security retirement benefits, you’re probably wondering just how your divorce will affect the benefits you’re due to receive.

Specifically, people often wonder how divorce will affect their Social Security spousal benefits. These are benefits you can receive based on your spouse’s work record. As long as you and your spouse were married for a minimum of ten years, you can collect spousal benefits as long as you don’t remarry.

It’s important to know that by collecting spousal benefits (rather than benefits based on your own work record), you won’t lessen the amount of benefits your ex-spouse will receive — or the amounts due to any past or future spouses they may have.

Why most people don’t take spousal benefits

You can choose between taking the benefits you’ve earned based on your own work record when the time comes or you can choose to take spousal benefits, but you can’t collect both. Note that spousal benefits can total no more than 50% of the benefits your current or former spouse is entitled to receive when they reach full retirement age (typically at least 66). That means unless your spouse has been in the workforce and earned considerably more over the years than you, you’re probably going to get more if you collect retirement benefits based on your own work record.

You may still have some years left before you need to make that decision. Remember that even if you do the calculations now, they may be different when the time comes, especially if you plan to start working (or working more) after your divorce. In most cases, a person can begin collecting spousal benefits at 62 if their spouse is at least that age.

Why you need to make the right decision

It’s crucial to make the best decision for your financial future when the time comes. The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t allow people to switch from spousal benefits to their own (or vice versa) once they’ve chosen.

An ex-spouse can’t prevent you from collecting Social Security spousal benefits since it doesn’t affect their or anyone else’s benefits. However, if you’re nearing eligibility age, you’ll need to consider Social Security retirement benefits in your financial picture as you work out your divorce agreement.

You’ll also need information about your spouse’s estimated benefits so you can make the right decision for yourself. It can be wise to get your own financial advisor in addition to seeking sound legal guidance.