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What are spousal Social Security benefits?

Did you know that you are able to take advantage of your spouse’s work history in order to claim Social Security benefits when you reach retirement age? It’s true! Although many people are not aware of this benefit it is absolutely possible for you to be able to choose to receive benefits based off of your own work history of that of your spouse. In some ways this makes sense, given that when you marry someone there are benefits to your doing so financially. What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine and all of that good stuff. 

However, what even more people are not aware of is that even if you have divorced your spouse and are living as an unmarried person you would still be able to claim benefits based off of your ex-spouse’s earnings history. There isn’t a trick to this or a side door that you have to walk through in order to take advantage of your status as the former spouse of a fellow American citizen. Rather, these benefits are stated in the federal laws regarding Social Security. The only trick (if you want to call it that) is you need to be aware of the benefit in the first place.

Social Security is a federal program that is much maligned. We have all heard commentators, prognosticators and even our neighbors with a lot of opinions talk about how Social Security is going to be bankrupt or insolvent or whatever term they want to use. It is true that politicians have talked about modifying, changing or altering how the Social Security system works and pays out benefits. We can sit here and speculate about changes that may happen, but I think it would make a lot more sense to discuss what we know to be true. 

What I do know is the same as what you know: many, many people rely on Social Security retirement benefits to live their day to day lives when they reach the age of 62 or older. Depending on your individual circumstances you may be in a position where you, too, need to lean heavily on Social Security in order to make your budget work in your golden years. I hope this isn’t the case, but the reality of the situation is that saving is not a strong suit of most Americans. There are various reasons for this, but where the rubber hits the road the reality is that you need to look long and hard at your Social Security income at retirement as being extremely important. 

The intersection of divorce and Social Security 

When you go through a divorce it goes without saying that you are having to withstand a great deal of emotion onslaught. You’re losing your spouse, you are losing some degree of your sense of self and are facing down a great deal of change. Couple that with the financial insecurity that many people in your position feel when going through a divorce, and you have an emotional hurricane to withstand. 

One way that you can begin to batten down the hatches, so to speak, is to learn what you can do to prepare for your financial future. Social Security, as we have already discussed at length, can be an important key to opening the doors of understanding as it pertains to long range goals- both financially, professionally and emotionally. 

Think about this if you are a woman in her 50’s. You have two likelihoods facing you: either you have been a stay at home mother for many years and have very little in the way of income earning history, or you work a job that basically supplements your husband’s. Throw a divorce into the mix and you have a potentially volatile situation from your personal financial perspective. How are you going to ensure that you have sufficient funds in your 60s and beyond in order to live? Working may not be in the cards for you-especially if you have physical impairments that impact your ability to sustain employment. 

As I alluded to earlier, if you are a woman who has gone through divorce and are entering your 60s you have the ability to apply to receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings history. You are able to do this even if your ex-spouse has remarried. The main requirement to be able to gain eligibility for these benefits would be to have been married to your spouse for at least ten years prior to your divorced. As long as you are unmarried and have met this ten year marriage requirement then you would be eligible to receive divorced spousal benefits through Social Security. 

If your ex-spouse is no longer living then you would still be able to take advantage of benefits through their earnings history. However, even if you do remarry you would be able to become eligible once again if your second (third or fourth, for that matter) ends via death or divorce. In this way you get multiple bites at the apple, so to speak, in order to take advantage of the benefits offered through the Social Security Administration. 

What benefits are available to you if you are eligible for ex-spousal Social Security benefits?

Once you have determined that you meet the qualifications for receiving benefits from your ex-spouse’s earnings history then you would stand to receive a benefit of up to 50% of your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits. For those of you in your 60s, you may be interested to learn that if you get married after age 60 you would still be eligible to receive spousal benefits based off of your ex-spouse’s earnings history as long as you meet the requirements that we discussed earlier. 

Survivor’s benefits are a part of the Social Security benefits conversation that we have not discussed yet. If your ex-spouse has passed away and you have not remarried since your divorce you would be able to collect survivor’s benefits through Social Security. These benefits would be more substantial than compared to ex-spouse’s benefits. 100% of your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefit would be available to you should he or she pass away while you are unmarried. 

What do you need to know about Social Security benefits when you are going through divorce?

So now that we have gone over the basics of the Social Security world I wanted to discuss with you the information that you need to build on if you are going through a divorce. Again, I think this is a particularly important subject for women who have gone through divorce because your incomes tend to be lower than your ex-spouse’s. You don’t need to do the math yourself, however. The Social Security Administration will do the math for you and you would be paid the higher amount. If you get remarried then you cannot receive benefits based off of your ex-spouse’ work history. If you get remarried and your second husband dies then you have the option to receive benefits based on either of your ex-spouse’ work histories. Your marriage needs to have lasted at least nine months, as opposed to ten years for your first marriage. 

In order to apply for and be granted benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work history then you would need to be at least 62 years old. This is the same age that you would need to be in order to claim benefits based on your own earnings history. There are two important exceptions to this general rule, however. First, if you are disabled and your ex-spouse has passed away then you would be eligible to receive benefits once you turn 50 years old. Finally, if your ex-spouse has passed away you would be eligible to receive benefits once you turn 60 years old. 

Many men and women who are approaching retirement age have asked me over the years whether or not there are any requirements for you to wait to apply for benefits until your ex-spouse has already done so. You do not have to wait for your ex-spouse to retire and apply for benefits but you do need to wait for him or her to turn 62 years old. So long as you all have been divorced for more than two years you are in the clear to go ahead and begin the application process. 

Your benefits will not be reduced even if your ex-spouse has remarried. Their new spouse could also be claiming benefits based off of your ex-spouse’s work history and it would not make a difference to you. There is nothing you need to do when you are getting your divorce in order to reserve your right to apply for these benefits. Likewise, your ex-spouse will never be notified of your application for benefits under their earnings history. Provide his or her social security number, name and/or date of birth at your local Social Security office and you will have everything you need to get your application process started. 

Benefits through your ex-spouse for your children if he or she passes away

You may find yourself in a position where your ex-spouse has unfortunately passed away leaving you as the only surviving parent to your children. As long as you are still raising the children from your marriage then you can apply to have them receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work history until the kids are under the age of 18. Disabled children over the age of 18 are eligible to receive benefits, as well. Finally, you may be eligible to receive benefits yourself until the kids reach age 16.

Can you still work and receive Social Security benefits at the same time?

This is a common question for people like you to have if you are of the age where you can start to receive retirement benefits, but you also want to work in order to supplement your Social Security income. Both retirement and survivor benefits are available through Social Security while you are working. 

Keep in mind, however, that if you are under the age of 66 or 67 (depending on what age you need to be in order to qualify as being of full retirement age) and you earn more than the yearly income limit for Social Security, you would receive a reduced amount of Social Security benefits. 

Let’s say that you are 63 years old. Social Security would reduce the benefit you receive one dollar for every two dollars that you have earned above their annual income limits. For this year, that figure stands at $18,240. If you are past the full retirement age then you can earn as much as you want and your retirement amount will not be reduced at all. 

Closing thoughts on Social Security Benefits and Divorce in Texas

Do not assume that just because you are divorced that you have lost the ability to take advantage of your ex-spouse’s earnings history to claim benefits for yourself through Social Security. The most important thing for you is to learn what your rights are what you have to do under the law to protect those rights. Many people are unaware of the rights that an ex-spouse has in relation to their former spouse’s work history. This can put you at a significant disadvantage both now and in the future. Learning about your eligibility for benefits is critical to your future. 

If you have any questions about Social Security benefits and divorce please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity for you to learn more about divorce cases as well as about our office and the services we can provide to you and your family. Any questions that you have can be asked in this consultation and our attorneys can address those questions directly with you. Thank you for your time and consideration in joining us on our blog today.

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