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What happens to my spouse Social Security benefits after divorce?

Divorcing late in life can come with a number of additional concerns that younger couples do not necessarily have to confront. Although ending a marriage closer to retirement usually means that parents do not have to worry about child custody or support, separating marital assets can be somewhat more difficult. Among these concerns, older New York residents often want to know their options for collecting Social Security benefits on the work record of their former spouse after divorce.

When asking this question, most people are met with "sometimes," as an answer. There are various requirements that must be met in order for a divorcee to be able to draw these benefits based on their ex's work history. One such requirement is the length of the marriage. Couples must have been married for a total of 10 years before finalizing their divorce, which includes the period of time after filing and before a judge signs off on the agreement. An additional time-based requirement kicks in after the divorce, as the individual claiming his or her ex-spouse's benefits must still wait two more years.

The situation can perhaps become even more confusing when a person is twice-divorced from marriages that both lasted at least 10 years or longer. In this instance, individuals can usually choose which spouse's work history on which to base their benefits, although there are some exceptions to this. Widows and widowers who remarry must also make carefully thought-out decisions when filing for Social Security benefits. Remarrying often means that benefits from a deceased spouse's history are off limits, but this can change depending on the age at which an individual remarries.

Much like retirement savings, one spouse working in order to secure future Social Security benefits is usually done for the benefit of both spouses. Since these benefits are usually a valuable aspect of retirement planning for New York couples, a divorce later in life can cause understandable concern. However, as long as an individual meets the minimum requirements, he or she should have no problems collecting benefits based upon the work history of an ex-spouse at the age of retirement.

Source: NerdWallet, "Divorce Doesn't Preclude Social Security Spousal Benefits", Jim Ludwick, July 13, 2016

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