What Happens to Social Security and Other Benefits if You Divorce?
Divorce usually means having to adjust to a new financial situation and budget. If you receive or planned to receive Social Security benefits, either for retirement or through disability insurance, you may be concerned about how the divorce will impact these benefits.
Fortunately, Social Security law is relatively clear on the circumstances under which divorced spouses are entitled to receive benefits–you won’t have to negotiate the matter in your divorce. Here’s an overview of what you need to know.
Social Security Benefits
Divorce does not affect the Social Security benefit you receive or plan to receive when the benefits are based on your work history. You will still receive the total amount to which you’re entitled. However, if you are receiving or plan to receive retirement benefits based on your former spouse’s work history, you will only continue to be eligible for these benefits post-divorce if:
- Your ex-spouse is entitled to receive Social Security benefits
- You are 62 years old or older
- You are unmarried
- You were married to your ex-spouse for at least ten years
- The amount you’re entitled to based on your own work history does not exceed the amount you’re entitled to based on your ex-spouse’s history.
If you meet these requirements, you may apply for social security benefits even if your ex-spouse has not yet applied for them as long as you have been divorced for at least two years. Social Security will not notify your spouse of your application, nor will your benefits affect the amount they will receive. If your former spouse has remarried, the benefits you receive will not impact the new spouse’s ability to receive benefits if they are eligible.
In determining the total benefit amount owed to you, Social Security considers both your work history and your ex-spouse’s. You are entitled to receive either 100 percent of the benefits based on your own work record or 50 percent of the amount of your ex-spouse’s benefits, whichever is greater.
For example, let’s say you’re entitled to receive $500 per month based on your work history, and your ex is entitled to receive $2,000 per month based on theirs. If you’re eligible to collect benefits based on your ex’s history, you’d be entitled to receive $1,000–half of the amount to which they’re entitled. Social Security would then give you $500 based on your earning history and another $500 based on your ex’s history to ensure that you receive $1,000 total. Your former spouse will still receive the entire $2,000 due to them.
Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
If you or your former spouse meet Social Security’s definition of disabled, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if you’ve worked long enough in jobs covered by Social Security.
As with Social Security benefits, if you are receiving SSDI based on your own work record, your divorce will not affect your eligibility to receive the benefits. That said, the agency may garnish a portion of your benefits, if necessary, to pay for any alimony or child support you owe.
If your ex-spouse becomes eligible for disability insurance benefits, no matter whether before or after your marriage, you may also qualify for benefits as long as:
- You are unmarried
- You are at least 62-years old and were married to your ex for at least ten years; or
- You are caring for your ex-spouse’s child under 16 or a disabled child who qualifies for disability benefits under your ex’s work record. The child must be your natural or legally adopted child as well.
If your former spouse qualifies for SSDI but has not yet applied for them, you may still be eligible to receive benefits based on your spouse’s work history if you are unmarried, you are both at least 62-years old, and have been divorced for at least two years.