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How Social Security benefits factor into a divorce

Many people do not fully understand the rules for Social Security benefits, and they can become even more confused when divorce comes into the picture. Although California retirees may be aware they can claim spousal benefits when they are married, they might not realize they could be entitled to spousal benefits if they are divorced. People might want to learn the basics of how these benefits work before they seek to end their marriages.

The marriage length is a big factor in whether or not spouses can claim Social Security spousal benefits after a divorce. Marriages must last a minimum of 10 years, and the couples must be divorced for two years before a claim can be made. Some spouses drag out their separation so that they meet the 10-year marriage requirement. When they make a claim for the benefits two years later, they must provide their marriage certificates and divorce decrees as proof of marriage length.

Some divorced spouses remarry and cannot make a claim on their former spouses' earnings. However, if they remarry after turning 60 and their ex-spouses have died, they can claim the Social Security benefit as long as it is more than their own. Individuals who had two 10-year marriages and are divorced twice may choose the larger benefit between their former spouses. They must be at full retirement age, and their personal benefit must be less than 50 percent if the ex-spouse is alive or less than 100 percent if the ex-spouse is deceased. These rules, however, only apply if the ex-spouses are eligible for Social Security benefits. Some government workers, for example, might not participate in the program, so this is crucial to check. They can do that by visiting their local Social Security office with their marriage certificates, divorce decrees and former spouses' Social Security numbers.

Asset and property division is often complex in divorces, and Social Security benefits could be included. Individuals who do not fully understand how it works could meet with their attorneys to discuss their questions and concerns.

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