United States: The Gray Divorce And Its Effects On Your Ex’s Social Security Benefits

Last Updated: November 18 2013
Article by Eliana Baer

Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about "The Gray Divorce" phenomenon now sweeping the nation.  As I highlighted in my blog post, whereas the divorce rate among those 50+ was only 10% in 1990, it is now a staggering 25%.

While certainly an interesting statistic and perhaps a telling sociological commentary on the baby boomer generation at large, it is important to be mindful of the fact that a "Gray Divorce" may have certain practical implications in terms of retirement planning.

For instance, did you also know that your former spouse may be entitled to one-half of your Social Security benefit upon retirement?

This may impact one spouse's overall retirement plan and therefore should be considered during a divorce.  As a result, it is important to familiarize yourself with the regulations surrounding Social Security spousal benefits, and carefully weigh all factors when even contemplating divorce at an advanced age, or even following any long-term marriage.

Here are some quick facts comprising most of what you need to know:

  • Length of the Marriage: Your former spouse can collect Social Security retirement benefits can be collected from you as long as your marriage lasted for 10 years or more.
  • Age of Election:  Both spouses must be eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Benefits may be elected as early as age 62 as long as the former spouse is also age 62 and the divorce has been final for two years or more.
  • Time for Filing:  You do not have to have filed for Social Security for your former spouse to be eligible to receive benefits based on your wage earnings.
  • How Calculated:  Retirement benefits for a former spouse are calculated as if you were still marriage.  At full retirement age, benefits are equal to 50% of what you would receive at retirement age.  Starting benefits early can reduce benefits as much as 30% (for those born in 1960 or later).
  • Effect of Remarriage:  Your former spouse must not have remarried.  A second marriage will result in the waiver of his or her spousal benefit unless that marriage ends in divorce as well.  If the second marriage lasted 10 years or more, the former spouse can be claimed on the spouse that produced the larger retirement benefit. If you are remarried, your former spouse's spousal benefit will not impact your Social Security payment.
  • Effect of Death:  If you die, your former spouse's benefit then becomes a survivor benefit equal to 100 percent of your Social Security payments, rather than the 50 percent spousal amount.
  • Former Spouse's Work Earnings:  Your former spouse must not be eligible for a higher benefit based on his or her own earnings.

Of course, the above is but the tip of the iceberg in retirement planning, which requires a careful examination of all your income, assets, and liabilities.  However, this aspect should not be overlooked when attempting to paint a full picture of both spouses' retirement strategy.

More information on this topic can be found at http://www.ssa.gov/retire2/yourdivspouse.htm

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Eliana Baer
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