Divorce for Seniors: The Impact on Social Security Benefits
September 23, 2022
10 Year Rule. Benefits are calculated based on the monthly average earnings of the covered person. A spouse can receive benefits based on his or her own work record or that of a spouse. For a spouse who has not worked or had low wages, then the lower-earning spouse is entitled to as much as one-half of the retired worker’s full benefit referred to as the Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). Eligible workers who are fully insured participants in the Social Security system will receive the greater of their own PIA or 50% of the benefit of the spouse if it is higher.
Example: If a Sally has a PIA calculated at $250 per month and her spouse Jack has a PIA of $1,000 per month, then Sally is eligible for a benefit of $500 per month (or 50% of Jack’s higher PIA).
Divorced spouses who have been married for at least ten years are eligible for benefits based on the PIA of the other spouse.
To begin receiving benefits, one has to be at least age 62 and not remarried. If the ex-spouse remarries, then benefits will be calculated and compared to the PIA of the new spouse. If that marriage ends by death or divorce, the ex-spouse may be eligible to PIA based on the prior marriage.
The amount of benefits that an ex-spouse receives does not impact the benefit available to the other spouse.
Either spouse who is at least age 62 and been divorced for at least two years may begin to collect benefits even if not yet retired.
Which of the following persons is eligible for retirement benefits under her first husband’s retirement benefits provision of Social Security?
A.) Helen, age 62, married from 1966 to 1980 whose ex-husband was employed from 1963 through 1998. Helen got divorced in 1995, never remarried and her ex-husband has died.
B.) Jane, age 62, was married from 1969 to 1983. Her first husband was employed from 1963 to 2000. Jane has remarried, divorced and remarried again.
C.) Judy, age 63, was married from 1961 to 1990 to her first husband who was employed from 1968 to 2003. After the divorce she remarried in 1993 to her second husband who eventually died in 2004.
D.) Emily, age 60, was married to her first husband from 1963 to 1988. She remarried in 1994. Her husband had worked from 1968 to 1998.
E.) Susan, age 68, was married from 1980 to 1988 to her first husband who had been employed from 1963 to 2003. She remarried and divorced her second husband after 6 years.
Based on these examples, only Helen (example A) is eligible to collect a benefit based on her first husband’s work record. They had been married for more than 10 years, divorced for at least 2 years and is eligible based on age (over 62).
Jane (example B) is not eligible to collect based on the first husband because she is remarried.
Judy (example C) can collect under her second husband.
Emily (example D) is not yet eligible to collect because she is under age 62.
Susan (example E) is not eligible because she has been married for fewer than 10 years to both husbands. She would have to rely on her own work record for calculating her PIA.
For personalized help, you should consult with a qualified financial professional who has been trained in handling the special area of divorce financial planning such as a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (TM) professional or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst.
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