Social security benefits provide older Americans with substantial financial support.  Not every retired person in California receives a pension or has significant personal savings.  Therefore, monthly social security deposits help single people and married couples alike.  What happens after a divorce, though?  Will it impact one’s social security benefits?

A person can receive benefits (called derivative benefits) as a divorced spouse on a former spouse’s social security record (50% of the former spouse’s Primary Insurance amount (PIA)) if he or she:

  • Was married to the former spouse for at least 10 years
  • Is at least 62 years old (and the former spouse is also at least 62)
  • Is unmarried
  • Is not entitled to a higher social security benefit on his or her own record
  • Has been divorced for at least two years
    • If not divorced for at least two years, then the former spouse must not only be age-eligible to collect their own benefits, they also must be in pay status for their former spouse to receive their derivative benefit.

It’s important to mention that the earner’s benefit is not affected when a former spouse receives their derivative benefit.

If receiving derivative benefits, the former spouse cannot switch to collect under their own account if born after 1953.

Typically, if the marriage was at least 10 years, there is a paragraph in the marital settlement agreement stating that each party has derivative benefits in the other’s social security so that the parties are aware.

A divorced spouse is eligible for benefits on the death of a former spouse (100% of the PIA of the former deceased spouse) if he or she:

  • Was married to the former spouse for at least 10 years
  • Is at least 60 years old (or age 50 if disabled)
  • Is not entitled to a higher social security benefit on his or her own record
  • Is unmarried (although remarried after the age of 60 is disregarded)

More information, the Social Security Administration has a specific webpage that talks about benefits for divorcing spouses:

http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/yourdivspouse.htm