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What Happens to Our Social Security Retirement Benefits If I Get Divorced?

Like many Americans, you may be counting on Social Security retirement benefits to fund your retirement years. If your benefits are a direct result of your spouse, not you, paying into Social Security, you may be worried about those benefits if you are contemplating a divorce. A Murfreesboro divorce attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains what happens to your Social Security retirement benefits if you get divorced.

Social Security Retirement Basics

Throughout your working years you accumulate credits based on your earnings. The Social Security Administration keeps track of yourdivorce lawyer earnings throughout your lifetime. In 2021, you get one credit for every $1,470 you earn, up to a limit of four credits per year. The amount you need to earn to acquire a credit increases slightly each year. Once a credit is earned it remains on your record forever. If you were born after 1929, you need 40 credits to receive Social Security retirement benefits. Consequently, you must work a combined total of 10 years over the course of your lifetime to be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. You do not have to work 40 consecutive quarters – you just need to have a total of ten years, or 40 quarters, worth of work history to be eligible for benefits. You may also qualify for benefits based on your spouse’s work history.

Social Security Benefits and Divorce

If you decide to divorce, benefits you receive or plan to receive that are based on your work history will not be impacted. You will receive the benefit amount to which you are entitled based on your work history and the age at which you retire. If, however, you are receiving or plan to receive retirement benefits based on your spouse’s work history and you get divorced, you will only be eligible for those benefits after the divorce if all of the following apply:

  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to receive Social Security benefits.
  • You are 62 years old or older.
  • You are unmarried.
  • You were married to your ex-spouse for at least ten years.
  • The amount you would be entitled to based on your own work history does not exceed the amount you would be entitled to based on your (now ex) spouse’s work history.

In addition, you will need to be divorced for at least two years before you can apply for benefits; however, your ex-spouse need not apply for benefits first. 

How Much Will I Receive in Social Security Retirement Benefits?

Your Social Security retirement benefit amount will be based on both your work history and that of your ex-spouse. You are entitled to receive either 100 percent of the benefits based on your own work history or 50 percent of the benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work history, whichever is greater. For example, if your own work history only entitles you to $700 per month and your ex-spouse is entitled to $2000 per month based on his/her work history, you would be entitled to $1000 (half of your ex-spouse’s monthly benefit). Your benefits do not impact how much your ex-spouse receives.

You can get an idea of how much you will receive in Social Security retirement benefits by using the retirement benefits estimator tool on the Social Security Administration’s website.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits

If you become disabled after the divorce, but prior to retirement age, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Just like with Social Security retirement benefits, your divorce will not affect your eligibility to receive SSDI benefits if they are based on your own work history. If your ex-spouse becomes eligible for disability insurance benefits after your divorce you may also qualify for benefits if:

  • You are unmarried,
  • You are at least 62-years old and were married to your former spouse for at least ten years; or
  • You are caring for your ex-spouse’s child under 16 or a disabled child who qualifies for disability benefits under your ex’s work record. The child must be your natural or legally adopted child as well.

Contact a Murfreesboro Divorce Attorney

If you have additional questions about Social Security benefits and divorce, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro divorce attorney. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Stan Bennett