When you get divorced, you’re busy sorting out, well, everything. You need to get your investments in order, you need to figure out what debts have been left to you, and you need to put together a short-term budget and a long-term plan. But what about Social Security for divorced women?
It’s true that Social Security is often the last thing on your mind when dealing with the emotional fallout of divorce, but many of us rely on Social Security to support us in retirement. Few of us even realize that Social Security can change, and substantially, based on our marital status. Here’s what you need to know about Social Security, and how to get the benefits you deserve.
First, one thing must be clear: There is not a “pool” of government money you’re fighting over. Your former spouse will get their full benefit whether you choose to apply for yours or not. Some think that they can “get back” at their spouse by accepting their Social Security benefits, and revenge is never a good financial goal.
Now that this is understood, how can you get those benefits? You can get Social Security benefits for your spouse’s benefit, but it depends strongly on several factors. You must have been married for more than ten years; you must be 62 years of age or older; you must be currently unmarried, and you must not qualify for a higher Social Security benefit under your own name.
It’s that last item, in particular, that’s tricky for some, especially those that have worked throughout their marriage, to put together. It helps to understand how Social Security is calculated. Essentially, the Social Security Administration analyzes your work history, puts together the amount from the 35 years that you earned the most for the work you did, calculates that amount based on modern-day inflation, and starts paying you a benefit based on your income.
Essentially, if you and your former spouse both worked and had the same amount of earning power, or you outearned them, they might be the one applying for Social Security benefits from your account. But if you didn’t work, or your earning power was substantially less than your spouse’s over the course of your marriage, then you will probably qualify to receive benefits based on their earning power. This can be impacted substantially by whether you work or receive alimony or other support after your divorce, but each individual case is different. You can get a rough estimate on the SSA’s website.
That said, there are other factors to consider carefully. For example, if your benefit is higher, you might consider putting off taking it while only accepting your spouse’s benefits. If you delay taking benefits until age 70, you’ll have a higher percentage of your own benefits under the delayed retirement credits program. In fact, you can even get on your former spouse’s benefits while waiting for yours to be approved in some situations.
As a first step, contact your local Social Security office and discuss your options. No matter what, remember that, even if you’ve had to move on in your life, no matter how difficult the divorce, you still have a safety net.