What Women need to know about Social Security and divorce

May 25, 2015
Author: Pat McClain


According to the Social Security administration, even though more women than at any time in America’s history are in the workforce, on average, they still receive a greater proportion of their Social Security benefits from their husband’s (or their former husband’s) accumulation of benefits than from their own work history (this will change as the women who have been in the workforce for their entire careers begin to retire).

With that in mind, what should women who are divorced, or who are facing divorce, know about Social Security?

Marriage Duration

Once you divorce, in order to receive Social Security based on your marriage (and your ex-husband’s work history and benefit accumulation), you need to have been married for at least 10 years, and you must not have remarried, unless you remarried and your second husband became deceased. If both marriages lasted at least a decade, then you can receive the larger benefit (not both benefits) available from either your first or second marriage.

What amount will you receive?

In general, once your ex-husband qualifies for benefits (even if he’s remarried), he does not have to apply to receive those benefits for you to begin receiving an amount equal to 50% of his Social Security benefits (and he will not be notified). There are some exceptions, but should your ex-husband become deceased, you will receive an amount equal to his full benefit.

(*It’s important to remember that when (at what age) you begin receiving Social Security will have an impact on the amount you receive.)

Can your ex-husband receive Social Security based on your work history?

Your ex-husband (reversing the criteria discussed above) can receive Social Security based on your work history. In this way Social Security is genderless.

Lastly, Social Security is in a state of flux, with the potential for delayed benefits, or even means testing, very real possibilities for the future. This information here is intended to provide some insight into a system that continues to evolve. For more information about Social Security, contact a registered, independent investment advisor who is a fiduciary, or go to www.ssa.gov.

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