From time to time, our clients ask whether or not their ex-spouse’s eligibility for spousal benefits from Social Security could affect their own income in retirement.
While divorce can create lots of financial complications, including the sharing of one’s pension payments or other retirement income, you need not be concerned about any reduction to your Social Security payments.
Benefit Rules Affecting Former Spouses
Social Security spousal-benefit rules allow a lower-earning (or non-working) former spouse to collect spousal benefits based on the other former spouse’s work and earnings history provided that they were legally married for at least 10 years and haven’t remarried. This means that if you are divorced and your ex earned less than you did, it’s very possible that your ex will get benefits based on the Social Security taxes that you paid over your career.
These spousal benefits can be claimed by your ex as early as age 62. And, depending on when the claim is made, the monthly income could equal as much as half of your primary benefit (the standard benefit you receive if you retire at full retirement age).
No Control Over When and How an Ex Spouse Claims Benefits
Once your ex-spouse has become eligible for spousal benefits based on the length of your marriage, you do not have any input into when or if spousal benefits are claimed. Ex-spouses are free to start collecting their checks whenever they are ready.
Since your ex could potentially receive thousands of dollars a year in Social Security spousal benefits based on your work history, you may logically think that this could reduce your own retirement payments.
You’ll be happy to know this doesn’t have any effect on your retirement income. You’ll receive the same amount of benefits whether or not you have an ex-spouse claiming spousal benefits on your record. Your benefits will be based on your earnings over your career and the age when you start getting your checks.
Claims by Former Spouses Do Not Affect Your Benefits
If you have remarried and your current spouse wants to claim spousal benefits on your work history, that’s allowed regardless of any retirement funds paid out to your former spouse. And if you have multiple ex-spouses, each of whom qualifies for benefits after a marriage lasting at least 10 years, this will not impact your retirement income, either.
Because of privacy rules, you likely will not even be aware of an ex-spouse claiming his or her Social Security benefits, even if they’re using your work history to do it. So, don’t worry if you find out your ex plans to claim spousal benefits—your own retirement income from this important entitlement program will remain the same as it would have had you never married or divorced at all.