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Social Security benefits for non-working ex-spouses

On Behalf of | Oct 21, 2020 | Divorce

Some longtime New York marriages end in divorce near the couple’s retirement years. While the marriage was in effect, at least one member of a married couple likely worked and earned a significant amount over a career. When that person qualifies to draw Social Security benefits, an ex-spouse from a longtime marriage might also be eligible for a Social Security benefit.

Qualifiers for ex-spouse benefits

Federal family law enables a former spouse to seek Social Security benefits when a marriage lasted at least 10 years before ending in divorce. The former spouse whose life earnings are used to calculate the benefit must be at least 62 years of age or otherwise qualified to receive Social Security benefits, and so must the ex-spouse who seeks a benefit. If approved, the ex-spouse could receive a benefit equal to half of the primary wage-earner’s benefit, which is unaffected.

Disqualifiers for former spouses

Two primary factors would disqualify a former spouse from obtaining Social Security benefits based on a prior spouse’s earnings. The first would be a new marriage, in which case the new spouse would be the one whose earnings would count. The second is if the spouse seeking the benefit also worked and qualifies for a Social Security benefit that would be larger than the one available based on the former spouse’s earnings.

No limit on former spouses

It is possible to have more than one former spouse who qualifies for a Social Security benefit based on the same person’s earnings. If each marriage lasted at least 10 years before ending in divorce, the divorced spouse meets the primary qualifier. Former entertainer Johnny Carson had three ex-wives who qualified for and obtained a benefit based of Carson’s significant lifetime earnings. A fourth wife divorced prior to the 10-year mark and could not draw a benefit.

If you are divorcing in or near retirement, you may be concerned about how Social Security payments will be affected by your divorce. An experienced family law attorney in New York may help you learn how the Social Security benefit for former spouses might work in your case.