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How divorce affects Social Security benefits

Maryland couples who are getting a divorce should be aware that there are implications for Social Security benefits. This may be particularly significant in terms of the timing of the divorce if the couple are nearing the 10-year mark.

If a couple has been married for at least 10 years, it may be possible for one to claim Social Security benefits based upon the earnings history of the ex-spouse. However, there are a number of other factors to keep in mind. A person who remarries cannot claim those benefits unless they have remarried after the age of 60 and their former spouse is dead. An exception may occur if they are marrying someone who is receiving survivor or ex-spousal benefits as well. People who are divorced more than once might be able to choose which former spouse's benefits to receive although there are restrictions. If the former spouse is deceased, they can make the claim if their own benefits are less than that of the ex-spouse, but if the former spouse is still alive, the person's own benefits must be at least 50 percent less before a claim can be made.

Another consideration is when a person claims benefits. For example, if people start claiming benefits prior to full retirement age, they may have to pay all or a portion of them back if their earned income exceeds the statutory threshold.

When people divorce, they might think about things like child custody and what to do with the home they own, but they might not realize that other considerations, such as Social Security, should be taken into account. In a high-asset divorce, there might be even more complications. Both spouses might have stakes in a business, or financial entanglements may be particularly complex. An attorney might be able to assist a person in such a situation in making the right choices about which issues to pursue.

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