How Does Divorce Affect Social Security Benefits?

dupage county divorce lawyerWorking Americans count on Social Security benefits to help them cover expenses after they retire. For many people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, Social Security is their main source of income.

If you are getting divorced, you may have questions and concerns about how the divorce will influence your ability to receive Social Security benefits upon retirement. Stay-at-home parents, homemakers, and those who were not the primary earner in their marriage often worry that divorce will impede their retirement. Breadwinning spouses may wonder if their soon-to-be ex-spouse will be able to take some of their Social Security benefits, leaving them with less to live on during retirement.   

Understanding Social Security Benefits

Social Security was established in 1935 through the Social Security Act. The benefits provide retirement income based on an individual’s work history. Most people who have worked in the private sector for ten years or longer are eligible for Social Security benefits once they turn 62 years old. The amount of money they can receive is based on their contributions to Social Security during their working lives. People can start collecting Social Security at age 62, but they do not receive the full amount unless they wait until full retirement age.

Collecting Social Security Through Your Spouse’s Work History

Many people worry that they did not contribute enough to Social Security and will be left without the financial resources they need upon retirement. They may have assumed that their marriage would last forever and they would have continued access to their spouse’s Social Security benefits and retirement funds.

Fortunately, spouses may be eligible for Social Security benefits through their spouses even if they get divorced. To qualify for Social Security through an ex-spouse, the following criteria must be met:

  • The individual is at least 62 years old
  • The individual is currently unmarried
  • The individual was married to the other spouse for at least 10 years

If someone is entitled to Social Security benefits through their own work history, they cannot collect their own benefits and the benefits through their ex-spouse. The government pays whichever benefit is higher.

Fortunately, collecting benefits through an ex-spouse does not decrease the ex-spouse’s access to Social Security. Individuals are entitled to the same benefits regardless of whether their ex-spouse is collecting benefits based on their work history or not.

Contact a DuPage County Divorce Lawyer

Divorce can impact your retirement in many different ways. For trustworthy legal guidance regarding the division of property, debts, and retirement assets during divorce, and much more, contact the skilled Wheaton divorce attorneys at MKFM Law. Call 630-665-7300 for a confidential consultation.


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