How Does Divorce Affect Social Security Benefits?

A senior male holds a nest that contains two golden eggs and a blank social security card. Concept for How Does Divorce Affect Social Security Benefits?

Many Maryland families depend on government social security benefits and social security disability insurance payments to pay their bills. When those families fall apart, it may be hard to understand where those payments will go. You may have questions about how divorce affects social security benefits for the recipient, your former spouse, and your children.

SS Benefits and Divorce

When planning for retirement, most older Maryland couples count on receiving social security retirement benefits as part of their income. However, divorce can change those calculations. If you were planning to receive social security based on your spouse’s income, you may be concerned about your right to receive SS benefits after divorce.

Your entitlement to SS benefits based on your spouse’s income depends on:

  • your spouse’s work history
  • your own work history
  • the length of your marriage
  • your age when claiming benefits

Even a stay-at-home parent and homemaker can be entitled to spousal benefits based on their spouse’s social security amount starting at age 62. They will also qualify for Medicare at age 65. However, if you are below the full retirement age (between 65 and 67, depending on the year of your birth) or are working while receiving benefits it can reduce the amount of monthly social security benefits you receive.

This remains true throughout the divorce process. Sometimes former homemakers find themselves needing to work to support themselves during separation or divorce. If you do, be sure to consider how that additional income may affect your entitlement to social security benefits.

Can a Former Spouse Receive Social Security Benefits?

Qualifying ex-spouses may receive up to one half of your retirement benefit amount. However, this does not decrease your retirement benefits. If your former spouse makes an application to collect social security under your work history, he or she will receive social security benefits directly from the government. Your former spouse may receive social security benefits based upon your work history (even if you have remarried) if:

  • You are entitled to social security retirement or disability benefits
  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years
  • Your divorce occurred at least two years ago (if you have not applied for retirement benefits)
  • Your ex-spouse has not remarried
  • Your ex-spouse is at least 62 years old
  • Your ex-spouse’s own work history (100% benefit) is less than the benefit they can receive based upon your work history (50% benefit).

However, there is a limit to the maximum family benefits the government will pay. If you have children, a current spouse, and a former spouse who are each claiming benefits on your record, the maximum amount the entire family can claim is between 150 to 180% of your full retirement benefit. In calculating this, your former spouse’s retirement benefits based on their own work history is paid first. Only the increased benefit amount will count toward your maximum family benefit.

SSDI Disability Benefits and Divorce

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are paid based on a person’s physical or mental disability interfering with their ability to work. SSDI benefits are generally not considered marital property to be divided in divorce. However, if those benefits were received during the marriage and placed in a joint bank account, that account can be divided during divorce.

SSDI may not be considered a marital asset, but it is considered income for the calculation of alimony and child support. If one spouse is disabled and the other has historically provided support, the provider spouse may be ordered to pay rehabilitative or indefinite alimony to help them pay their bills. However, the amount of alimony awarded will be based on multiple factors, including the disabled spouse’s access to government benefits. If you receive SSDI at the time the divorce is entered, it will likely reduce the amount of alimony you are entitled to receive.

Dependents’ Benefits and Child Support

Your biological, adopted, and stepchildren are entitled to receive dependents’ benefits under either your social security retirement or SSDI benefits. Certain dependent grandchildren also apply. To receive dependent benefits, a child must be:

  • Unmarried and
  • Under 18,
  • Between 18 and 19 (and two months) if still a full-time high school student, or
  • Have a disability that started before age 22

Just like a spouse, if your child works while receiving benefits, their benefits will be reduced based on the amount they earn. However, your benefits will not change.

In addition to any dependents’ benefits your children may receive, your SSDI payments may be garnished to help pay for court-ordered child support. That is because SSDI is considered income for support purposes. However, if your children are receiving dependents’ benefits, that amount will count toward support first, before dipping into your own payments. If you have not applied for dependents’ benefits for your child already, doing so can increase the total money available to pay for your child support.

At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce lawyers want to help you protect your government benefits, and make financial decisions that are best for you and your children. If you need help understanding how divorce will affect your social security retirement or disability benefits, contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation with an attorney.

If you have questions or concerns regarding your social security benefits we encourage you to also contact the Social Security Administration. To find a field office in your area visit the online Social Security Office Locator. For general questions, contact the Social Security national office at 800-772-1213.