retirement

Social Security benefits after a divorce

Don TaylorDear Dr. Don,
My wife and I are both currently collecting Social Security retirement benefits. I am 75 and she is 65, and we have been together for 14 years. Right now I receive $1,400 a month and she gets $690 a month. We are thinking of getting a divorce. My question is this: What happens to Social Security benefits after a divorce? How is the money calculated? In other words, do we still get the same amount, or is the total combined and we each get half? I would appreciate it if you could answer this question for me. Thank you.
-- Nate Nix

Dear Nate,
While a divorce is a complicated and challenging process, both financially and emotionally, I don't believe this is something that would change if you move forward and split up. In any case, I wish you both well.

Senior couple with adviser © Goodluz/Shutterstock.com

As I see it, the combined benefits would not be divided between you. Mind you, that is a legal question. So I'd suggest you speak with an attorney about the issue.

Here's where it gets more complicated

That doesn't mean she's not going to get part of your retirement savings or pension benefits in the divorce, or that the judge can't consider the amount each of you receives in Social Security in determining the division of other marital assets.

Because she filed for benefits before her full retirement age of 66, her reduced benefits were based on a combination of her work record and your work record, if considering your work record would have increased her benefit. Since she's over 60, if you should predecease her, she will be entitled to a survivors benefit based on your work record, even if she should remarry. The benefit paid to a surviving divorced spouse, however, won't affect the benefit rates for other survivors getting benefits on your work record.

If you get married again ...

That means, should you remarry, your new wife may also be eligible to receive a survivors benefit if you predecease her, and that benefit wouldn't be reduced because of any survivors benefit paid to your ex-wife. The general rule is that the couple has to have been married for at least 9 months before the deceased's death for the survivor to qualify for survivors benefits.

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