How does divorce affect Social Security retirement benefits?

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If you were counting on your spouse’s Social Security benefits to provide some of your retirement income, what happens now that you’re divorced?

What are the rules?
Even if you’re divorced, you may still collect benefits on your ex-spouse’s Social Security earnings record if:

  • Your marriage lasted 10 years or longer
  • You are age 62 or older
  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits, and
  • The benefits you’re entitled to receive based on your own earnings record is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record

If you’ve been divorced for at least two years, and the other requirements have been met, you can receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record even if he or she has not yet applied for benefits.

How much can you receive?
If you begin receiving benefits at your full retirement age, your spousal benefit is equal to 50% of your ex-spouse’s full retirement benefit (or disability benefit).

Are you eligible for benefits based on your own earnings record?

If so, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay that amount first. But if you can receive a higher benefit based on your ex-spouse’s record, you’ll receive a combination of benefits that equals the higher amount.

Will you begin receiving benefits before or after full retirement age?

You can receive benefits as early as age 62, but your monthly benefit will be reduced. If you decide to receive benefits later than full retirement age, your benefit will increase by 8% for each year you wait past fill retirement age, up until age 70 (increase applies only if benefit is based on your own earnings record).

Will you work after you begin receiving benefits?

If you’re under full retirement age, your earnings may reduce your Social Security benefit if they are more than the annual earnings limit that applies.

Are you eligible for a pension based on work not covered by Social Security?

If so, your Social Security benefit may be reduced.

What happens if one of you remarries?
Benefits for a divorced spouse are calculated independently from those of a current spouse, so your benefit won’t be affected if your spouse remarries. However, if you remarry, you generally can’t collect benefits on your ex-spouse’s record unless your current marriage ends. Any spousal benefits you receive will instead be based on your current spouse’s earnings record.

What if your ex-spouse dies?
If your marriage lasted 10 years or more, you may be eligible for a survivor benefit based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record.

 Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016.

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