The Potential Impact of Divorce on Social Security

 Posted on May 23, 2017 in Divorce

social security, Wheaton divorce attorneyMore and more people are pursuing a divorce at relatively later stages of life for a variety of reasons. However, even if you are young, it is, nonetheless, a good idea to take steps to understand retirement accounts and Social Security payments, because one day, you may need to use them, divide them with your spouse or ex-spouse, or both. You can also ask an experienced attorney for assistance.

How Social Security Works

During one’s working lifetime, taxes are withheld from each paycheck, some of which are used to pay into Social Security. When that person reaches the appropriate age, that money is used to help support him or her, as a way of giving back what a person has put into the system. Because of this, a person’s eligibility for Social Security is based, among other factors, on how many “work units” they have worked over their lifetime. If one has accumulated 40 units—roughly 10 years’ worth of work, which does not have to be continuous—and he or she is over 62 years old, they are generally eligible to receive Social Security payments.

A person’s family may also be eligible to receive benefits with both a person’s spouse and children being able to collect partial or full benefits depending on the situation. If you and your spouse are able to receive your benefits around the same time, it may actually improve your family’s financial situation. Children may receive your Social Security benefits only if they are a minor or are disabled (from a disability incurred before age 22), but their eligibility will cease upon their 18th birthday in most cases.

After a Divorce

Social Security is a retirement instrument, but because it is a federally administered benefit, it cannot be divided in a divorce decree as most assets can. Essentially, in lieu of splitting the monetary benefits, an ex-spouse is permitted to receive benefits on your record (or you on theirs), without the other person’s benefits decreasing. However, there are certain criteria that have to be fulfilled by the person applying for benefits, and it depends on whether the spouse with the work record in question is living or deceased.

In order to claim benefits on a spouse’s work record when they are living, you must be divorced or otherwise not married any longer and 62 years of age or older. Your marriage also had to last at least 10 years. The rationale is that if you remarry, you will have that person’s income in addition to your own, so it is no longer necessary to lean on your ex-spouse’s work record. If your ex-spouse is deceased and you would like to claim on their work record, the requirements are the same, but with two extra: (1) you must be age 60 or older, not 62; and (2) you must not be able to make more on your own work record than you could on your ex-spouse’s.

Need Help Understanding Social Security Benefits?

Dividing property in a divorce can be a time-consuming endeavor, but dealing with Social Security can add a great deal of complexity.  To ensure that you and your spouse both receive what you are entitled to, consulting an attorney is a logical step. Our passionate DuPage County asset division attorneys are happy to sit down and discuss your situation. Contact us today to set up a free initial consultation.


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