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Social Security and Divorce
The first thing to know about social security payments in retirement is that your divorce terms do not determine how much social security you’ll get FROM SOCIAL SECURITY e.g. the government program that is social security.
Here are the two general rules for social security:
- If you were married for 10 years and then divorce, you may “claim” on your former spouse’s work record.
- To claim, you cannot remarry unless you were over 60 when the remarriage took place.
If these rules are met, you are eligible for the greater of:
- Half of your former spouses’ full retirement age (FRA) social security amount when you are at your FRA or
- Whatever social security you are eligible for based on your own work record
Full retirement age (FRA) for those born after 1960 is 67. The FRA is two months earlier for each year before that, back until birthdays from 1943 – 1955 when it stops at age 66 (see the Social Security website). Divorcing spouses do not need to file or inform the Social Security Administration. There is no court order needed.
You must be at least 62 years of age to claim on your ex-spouse’s record, although there are exceptions (for example if you are disabled, or your ex-spouse is deceased). You can claim before your FRA although benefits are reduced by approximately 6.5% and 7.5% for each year taken earlier. If you were married more than once for 10 years each, you can choose only one ex’s work record.
Your ex-spouse’s social security payment stays the same. It is not impacted by a claim by a former. Social security will not notify your ex that you are claiming on his/her record and there is no need to communicate with your ex to accomplish any of this.
One more thing:
Your ex-spouse must be eligible to claim social security benefits but doesn’t have to be taking them. If your ex-spouse is not taking benefits but is eligible, your divorce must be two years prior to your claim – unless your ex-spouse was receiving benefits before the divorce.
For example: Ann a stay-at-home mom divorces Joe a worker after 10 years of marriage. Ann gets half of Joe’s FRA social security amount ($1,500) at her full retirement age. If she takes it earlier, the amount is reduced. Joes gets all his ($3,000/month). If Joe dies, Ann gets the full amount Joe would have received ($3,000).
Here’s the not-so-good news:
- To get an estimate based on ex’s work record you’ll have to call or visit your local social security office. You need you ex’s social security number, date of birth and parent’s names in addition to your marriage certificate and divorce decree.
- If you were born in 1954 or after, you choose between your own benefit or 50% of the benefit based on your ex’s work record. Remember your benefit increases each year after your FRA, up until age 70. If you choose your ex’s benefit, you lose that opportunity. You’ll have to crunch numbers. If you were born before 1954, there is an option to file for your ex’s benefits and then switch to your own later.
- There are other Social Security Administration rules that may apply due to your or your ex-spouse’s unique circumstances (government pension offsets, something that is called the ‘windfall elimination provision’ and military benefits)
- Everything I’ve just written is subject to change.
As you can see this is complicated. What you will receive is already determined by the Social Security Administration and is not negotiated in your divorce. A consultation at your local SSA office may be needed. And please remember, their answers can change by the time you are able to make a claim with changes in the law.
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Pam Friedman, CFP®, CDFA®
Managing Director and Principal
Pam Friedman, CFP®, CDFA®, is a Managing Director and Principal at Robertson Stephens. She has nearly 30 years of financial planning and investment experience. Prior to joining Robertson Stephens, Pam was a co-founder of Silicon Hills Wealth Management and founder of Divorce Planning of Austin. She previously worked in both New York and London at CIBC and UBS, respectively, raising capital for both public and private companies. More recently, Pam spent six years on the faculty of the Finance Department in the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.