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How divorce may affect Social Security

California couples who are considering a divorce may wonder about its effect on Social Security benefits after retirement. Social Security requires the equivalent of a 10-year work history, and one person may not have this or might make less income than their spouse. If a person's Social Security benefits are less than what they would be eligible for from their ex-spouse, they may be able to claim on their former spouse's income under certain circumstances.

First, it is necessary that the marriage lasted at least 10 years. If the ex-spouse has not begun drawing benefits yet, it must be at least two years since the divorce. The person can claim up to 50 percent of their former spouse's benefit. If the person has remarried, they cannot claim on their former spouse's Social Security unless they have since divorced again or been widowed.

While it is possible to start claiming Social Security benefits at age 62, benefits from a former spouse will be reduced permanently. At 66 or 67, a person reaches full retirement age and can begin drawing on Social Security, but there might still be tax implications.

Because divorce can be such an emotionally difficult time, some people may approach it without thinking about the financial implications. However, divorce can have an enormous impact upon a person's quality of life, and it may be important for an individual to make certain that they receive their fair proportion of marital assets. A divorce does not always mean going before a judge who makes decisions about how property will be divided and who will get custody of any children. A mediated or collaborative divorce, in which people negotiate with their spouse, may produce results both parties are happier with since these approaches focus on compromise instead of an adversarial approach.

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