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Does divorce affect rights to Social Security spousal benefits?

So-called “gray divorces,” involving people who are in their 50s or older, are becoming increasingly common. While divorces among younger couples tend to focus on child custody and support – divorces among older couples tend to contain complex issues involving the division of property and other assets. 

If you’ve been financially dependent on your partner during your marriage, one of the major questions you may have is about your future entitlement to Social Security spousal benefits. 

There’s good news (and no real downside) 

Have you passed the 10-year mark on your marriage? If so, you retain the right to benefits on your ex-spouse’s Social Security record indefinitely. Here are some quick facts that you need to keep in mind: 

  • It’s your divorce date, not the date of separation, that controls the 10-year qualifying period for your marriage. If you separated shortly before your 10th wedding anniversary but divorced after, you qualify for spousal benefits.
  • You retain the right to those spousal benefits as long as you don’t remarry (although you can remarry after 50 years of age if you are disabled – or after 60 years of age if you are not – without penalty.)
  • Your ex-spouse can marry again without affecting your entitlement to spousal benefits – nor will your benefits have any bearing on the spousal benefits their current partner may receive.
  • If your ex-spouse dies, you are entitled to a divorced widow’s or widower’s benefit that can be as much as 100% of your ex-spouse’s Social Security. 

One more important thing to remember: You cannot be forced to give up your right to this benefit as part of your divorce agreement. Your spouse may be rankled at the idea that you will one day collect Social Security on their work record, but that’s an entitlement that cannot be taken away from you nor given away in a divorce decree. 

When you understand how the system works and what the future can hold, it’s a lot easier to move forward with your divorce with confidence.

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