What Happens to Your Social Security If You Get Divorced?

Social Security benefits are a lifeline for millions of older adults, with many people relying on their monthly checks as their main source of income. In fact, around 1 in 5 adults age 50 and older have no other retirement income outside of their benefits, a 2023 survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute found.

Several factors will influence the size of your checks, such as your income history, the length of your career, and the age you begin claiming benefits. But your marital status will also play a part in how much you receive, especially if you're married or divorced.

Whether you're already divorced or your marriage ends after you retire, here's what to expect when it comes to your Social Security benefits.

Two people sitting at a table looking away from each other.

Image source: Getty Images.

How divorce affects your Social Security

There's a special type of Social Security reserved specifically for divorced spouses, and if you're the lower-earning spouse, you could potentially receive hundreds of dollars per month in divorce benefits.

There are a few requirements you'll need to meet in order to qualify for divorce benefits:

  • You cannot currently be married.
  • Your previous marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years.
  • You must be at least 62 years old.
  • If you've been divorced for less than two years, you'll need to wait until your ex-spouse files for benefits before you can begin claiming.

If you're also entitled to retirement benefits based on your own work history, that could also affect your eligibility. The Social Security Administration will only pay out the higher of the two amounts (not both), so if your retirement benefit is higher than what you'd collect in divorce benefits, you won't qualify for this type of benefit at all.

How much can you receive in divorce benefits?

The maximum benefit is 50% of the amount your ex-spouse will receive at their full retirement age (FRA). To receive this amount, you'll also need to wait until your own FRA to file. Your FRA will depend on your birth year, but it's age 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

Social Security full retirement age chart.

Data source: The Motley Fool.

You can file before your FRA (as early as age 62), but your benefits will be permanently reduced. Also, unlike standard retirement benefits, delaying claiming past your FRA won't increase your divorce benefit payments.

Again, if you're also entitled to retirement benefits, it could affect your divorce benefit eligibility. For example, say you qualify for $800 per month in retirement benefits at your FRA, while your ex-spouse will receive $2,000 per month at their FRA.

In this case, your maximum divorce benefit would be $1,000 per month. The Social Security Administration will pay out your $800 per month first, then you'll receive an additional $200 per month in divorce benefits so that your total payment equals the higher amount. If you were receiving, say, $1,200 per month in retirement benefits, you wouldn't qualify for divorce benefits at all in this case.

Will claiming divorce benefits affect your ex-spouse's benefit amount?

The good news is that no matter how much you're receiving in divorce benefits, it won't impact the amount your ex-spouse will receive. They will continue collecting retirement benefits like normal, regardless of whether you take divorce benefits or not.

Also, while you must be unmarried to qualify for divorce benefits, your ex-spouse can remarry without it affecting your ability to receive this type of Social Security. If you take divorce benefits, that also won't impact your ex-spouse's current partner's ability to claim spousal benefits.

Getting divorced won't reduce your or your ex-spouse's benefits in any way, but you could be entitled to extra money each month in divorce benefits. If you qualify for this special type of Social Security, it could boost your payments by hundreds of dollars per month.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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