New social security rules for divorce: what you need to know

Recent changes to federal law have created two different rules for former spouses who wish to apply for Social Security spouse benefits based on their former partner’s income records. Which one is applicable depends on the applicant’s date of birth. This change is the result of the bipartisan budget bill in 2015 and took effect in 2016. This is what you need to know.

Key points

  • Divorced spouses may be eligible for social security benefits based on their former spouse’s income records.
  • For people born on January 2, 1954 or later, a rule has changed.
  • If their former spouse dies, the divorced spouse may be eligible for survivor benefits, which have their own set of rules.

Social security for divorced spouses: recent rule changes

The basic rules of divorced spouses and social security say that if a person has been married for at least 10 years and then divorced, as long as they are at least 62 years old, they are eligible to receive the spouse allowance age on the former spouse’s income record and are currently single. In this case, even if the former spouse remarries, the divorced spouse can still collect money in the former spouse’s account.

In addition, if the couple has been divorced for at least two consecutive years, even if the latter has not yet applied for benefits, the former spouse can apply for benefits based on the income of the other spouse. This is in sharp contrast to the current rules for spouses, who cannot receive benefits unless their spouse has already received benefits.

Ex-spouses born on or before January 1, 1954 are allowed to apply for restrictive spousal benefits at their full retirement age (FRA) and suspend their own benefits (based on their own work records) until later, the practice is called Archive and pause. This allows their own welfare to grow at an annual rate of 8% until the age of 70, when their welfare reaches its peak. Then—or earlier if they want—they can turn to their own higher interests.

However, according to the rule change, a divorced spouse born on or after January 2, 1954 is deemed to be applying for all available benefits (spouse and their own) when applying for social security. They will automatically get higher benefits, but they can no longer enjoy one kind of benefit now and will change to another one later.

There are different eligibility requirements and other rules for spouse benefits and survivor benefits.

Different rules for survivor benefits

The rule of non-switching benefits does not apply to social security survivor benefits, and if their ex-partner is deceased, the divorced spouse may be eligible for these benefits. Divorced spouses can apply for survivor benefits as early as 60 (or 50 if they have a disability) and convert to their own benefits as early as 62. They can also choose to apply for their own benefits 62 as early as before their age, and then apply for survivor benefits when they reach the FRA (66 to 67 for most people), if this leads to higher benefits.

Divorced spouses who are caring for the deceased spouse’s biological children under 16 or legally adopted children — or disabled and entitled to benefits — can apply at any age. In this case, the rule that the couple must be married for at least 10 years is also exempted. However, benefits will continue until the child reaches 16 years of age or is no longer disabled.


READ ALSO:   The best strategy to attract high-net-worth clients
Share your love