Divorced senior citizens in Southern California may be able to access their ex-spouse’s social security benefits without reducing the amount of benefits available to the other party. However, social security income may affect other aspects of the divorce, including property division and alimony. The divorced individual must be at least 62 years of age and have been married for at least 10 years to gain eligibility. Further, the divorced party must not be married upon application for the benefits. Ex-spouses can access a maximum of one half the other party’s total benefits.
This program opens up several unique possibilities for the spouse who was supported during the marriage. An ex-spouse may choose between collecting on benefits owed to the other party or those based on their own work record. For instance, individuals who postpone collection of social security benefits to age 70 can access Delayed Retirement Credits. The ex-spouse can collect on their former partner’s retirements until age 70 and then have access to their own increased benefits.
Several rules govern the availability of benefits and length of access. If the former partner dies, survivor benefits replace the work credits. If the party collecting benefits continues to work past age 62, the benefits will be reduced according to income.
Benefits available to the ex-spouse are based on a legal understanding that one spouse often sacrifices their time and opportunities to make that income possible. Taking care of the home, raising children and working to help a partner get through school may all be viewed favorably by the courts during property division. A divorce lawyer may be able to help with navigating the complicated rules surrounding property division and benefits access.
Source: Stamford Advocate, “Divorce could play role in Social Security benefits,” Julie Jason, Feb. 22, 2013