Many times clients ask me what happens with Social Security Benefits when a couple divorces. This is particularly relevant when one spouse (usually the wife) has spent a significant amount of time out of the workforce to raise children. Although many critics have doubts as to the long term viability of the Social Security System, at this time it serves as an important retirement benefit for many individuals. Moreover, this is often an issue which is taken into consideration when making a determination as to alimony.
The amount of benefit that a individual can collect is limited to one half of the former spouse’s benefit, unless the former spouse predeceases the individual in which case the entire benefit will be paid
An individual can collect only one benefit, so for situations when both spouses have been working, a calculation needs to made to determine which benefit will be greater. The Social Security Administration will calculate those benefits. Moreover, an individual does not have to wait for the former spouse to begin collecting benefits. As long as the criteria are met, the former spouse can still be working.
An individual who is divorced must meet certain criteria in order to be permitted to collect benefits on his or her former spouse’s work record:
* The individual must have been married for 10 years or longer.
* The individual must not currently be married ( however, if there is a remarriage and the second spouse is deceased, the individual may claim under either former spouse so long as each of the marriages lasted 10 years)
* The individual must be 62 years or older (if the former spouse is deceased, the individual can begin collecting at age 60 and if the former spouse is deceased, and the individual is disabled, the individual can begin collecting at age 50.
Oftentimes, there is a remarriage of the former spouse. In that case, and even if a second spouse is collecting benefits based upon the former spouse’s work history, there will be no reduction of benefits to the individual.
Finally, another important thing to remember is that in the event of a death of a former spouse (or a current spouse for that matter), any children under the age of 18, or 19 if they are a full time student are eligible for benefits as well.