The spousal benefit
The spousal benefit allows marriage partners more flexibility in planning for retirement in a number of ways. For example, at full retirement age, lower-earning spouses can collect a benefit based on their own record or half of their higher-earning spouse's benefit -- whichever is larger. So nonworking spouses can collect based on the earnings of the working spouse. Also, higher-earning spouses can, at full retirement age, "file and suspend," enabling their lower-earning spouse to collect benefits while they continue to work and accrue additional retirement credits.
This makes it a great financial planning tool because the second spouse can wait longer before taking his or her own benefits.
"Quite a bit of money could be at stake," says David Rae, a Certified Financial Planner professional and vice president of investments for Trilogy Financial Services in the Los Angeles area, "especially if one partner stayed home."
A divorced person who was married for 10 years can also claim spousal benefits -- but that raises an issue that still needs to be resolved, Rae says.
"Now that DOMA is struck down, when do they start the clock for that recognition? If someone has been married for 10 years, is that recognized, or will the clock be reset to when that marriage was legally recognized?" he asks.