Married or Divorced? Here’s How It Will Affect Your Social Security

Social Security can make up a sizable portion of your income in retirement, so it pays to know how your benefits are calculated. In some cases, your marital status could affect the amount you receive each month. Married or divorced couples can sometimes collect extra benefits based on their partner’s (or ex-partner’s) work record, which could amount to hundreds of dollars per month.

Not everyone is eligible for spousal or divorce benefits, and there are a few requirements you’ll need to meet. Here’s how to tell if you qualify.

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Who is eligible for spousal benefits?

Spousal benefits are generally available to those who are married to someone entitled to Social Security. Even if you’ve never worked and don’t qualify for your own benefits, you can still receive spousal benefits, based on your partner’s work record.

The maximum you can collect is 50% of the amount your spouse is entitled to at their full retirement age (FRA). For example, if your partner would collect $2,000 per month at their FRA, the most you could receive in spousal benefits is $1,000 per month.

If you’re entitled to Social Security based on your own work record, you can still receive spousal benefits — but only if your payments are less than what you’d receive based on your partner’s earnings. In addition, you’ll only receive the higher of the two amounts.

For example, if you’re entitled to $800 per month based on your own earnings and could receive $1,000 in spousal benefits, you’d collect $1,000 per month. If you were receiving, say, $1,200 per month based on your own work record, then you wouldn’t qualify for spousal benefits at all in this scenario.

Who is eligible for divorce benefits?

Divorce benefits are similar to spousal benefits in many ways, except you’re claiming based on an ex-spouse’s work record. To qualify for divorce benefits, your previous marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years and you can’t currently be married. If you’ve been divorced for less than two years, you’ll also need to wait until your ex-spouse files for benefits before you can begin claiming.

Like with spousal benefits, the most you can receive is 50% of your ex-spouse’s benefit amount at their FRA. Also, if you’re receiving Social Security based on your own work record, you’ll only collect the higher of the two amounts.

Finally, claiming divorce benefits won’t affect your ex-spouse’s benefit amount in any way. If your ex-partner has remarried, it will also not affect their current spouse’s ability to claim spousal benefits.

If you qualify for spousal or divorce benefits, it’s wise to take full advantage of them. In some cases, you could increase your retirement income by hundreds of dollars per month, which can help you enjoy your senior years as comfortably as possible.

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