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Social Security Spousal Benefits After a Divorce

Photo courtesy of danka peter on unsplash.com.

Photo courtesy of danka peter on unsplash.com.

We’ve discussed many different factors about Social Security Spousal Benefits, but what happens to Spousal Benefits after the couple has divorced?

We know that a divorcee can file for Spousal Benefits if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years – but only after a 2-year period has passed if the ex-spouse has not already filed for benefits.  The only other factors that must be in place are for the ex-spouse to be at least 62 years of age, and of course the ex must have a benefit record to calculate Spousal Benefits from.

On the other hand, if a couple is divorcing and one of the spouses (soon to be ex-spouses) has already filed for his or her own Social Security benefits, the other spouse can file for Spousal Benefits either before or after the divorce is finalized with no waiting period, as long as they were married for one year or longer.

This differs from the usual explanation of divorcee Spousal Benefits in a couple of ways: first off, if the other spouse has not already filed, there is a two year waiting period after the divorce to allow the person to file for Spousal Benefits.  Secondly, if the benefits have not already started, the marriage must have been in existence for 10 years (before the divorce) for the ex-spouse to be eligible for Spousal Benefits.

A planning point can be illustrated by the following example:  A couple, Jan and Dean, who were married for 30 years and are going through a divorce.  Dean is 66 years old, and Jan is 62.  Dean has not filed for his Social Security benefits, preferring to delay until age 70.  Jan has also not filed for benefits, however, after the divorce she feels that she may need the benefits to augment her income.

Jan could file for her own benefit either before or after the divorce, that event won’t have an impact on her own retirement benefit.  However, if she needs the Spousal Benefit in addition to her own benefit, she would have to wait until two years have passed after the divorce in order to be eligible.  The limiting factor is that Dean has not filed for his own benefit.

Now, if Dean was to file and suspend his benefit, there is no negative for him – file and suspend has no downside for him.  On the other hand, by Dean’s filing and suspending his own benefit, he has enabled Jan to file for Spousal Benefits, either before or after the divorce is finalized.  Otherwise Jan would have to wait until two years after the divorce is final to be eligible for Spousal Benefits.

It’s important to note that deemed filing would apply to Jan if Dean has filed for his benefits – meaning that if Dean files or files and suspends before Jan files for her own benefit, she is required to filed for both her own benefit and the Spousal Benefit at the same time.  This is because she is under full retirement age, and is eligible for a Spousal Benefit in addition to her own benefit, so she is deemed to have filed for both in these circumstances.

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