How Does Divorce Impact Social Security Benefits?

Gavel in front of courthouse

When planning for divorce, the duration of the marriage and timely filing of divorce papers can have a significant impact on Social Security benefits. A Social Security law firm Chicago understands federal laws that impact Social Security benefits for divorced couples in Illinois.

Collecting Ex-Spousal Benefits

Many people are unaware of the Social Security laws surrounding spousal benefits. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), when couples divorce they are allowed to collect Social Security benefits based on their ex-spouse’s record if:

  • The marriage lasted 10 years or longer
  • The spouse filing for benefits is not remarried
  • The spouse filing for benefits is entitled to social security retirement or disability benefits
  • The ex-spouse is age 62 years old or older
  • The social security benefit of the ex-spouse is greater than the social security benefit of the filing spouse based on work records

For couples who are planning to divorce close to the 10-year mark of a marriage, waiting a few months to file divorce papers can result in higher Social Security payments. Even couples who are already divorced can receive benefits based on an ex-spouse’s record if all requirements are met, even if the ex-spouse has remarried. Collecting ex-spousal benefitsdoes not impact the ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits in any way, or that of their current spouse if they are remarried. In addition, both ex-spouses (husband and wife) can collect ex-spousal benefits off of each others record at the same time. For couples divorcing in Illinois, a Social Security law firm Chicago who knows federal regulations ensure that benefits are protected.

Recent Changes to Spousal Benefits

In 2015, Congress eliminated two benefit-boosting claiming strategies for spousal benefits – the file-and-suspend rule and the file-and-restrict rule.

  • The file-and-suspend rule allowed married or divorced couples to take advantage of spousal benefits and delayed retirement credits at the same time.
  • The file-and-restrict rule allowed one spouse to file for benefits based only on their spouse’s record, while restricting their own benefits.

Individuals who turned 62 on or before January 1, 2016 can still file a restricted application, but they must wait until full retirement age of 66 to file. The elimination of file-and-restrict rule will also impact a divorced spouse who is planning to restrict his/her application to claim ex-spousal benefits for a few years, then switch over to his/her own benefits.