The law does not allow a court to consider current or future Social Security benefits when approving a divorce settlement even in an equitable distribution state like Georgia. But, you may be able to collect Social Security benefits on your ex-spouses earnings record. Here are some things you should know.
The importance of timing
Either spouse may be eligible to collect benefits on his or her ex-spouse’s employment record if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. Even if the marriage lasted for 9 years, 11 months and 27 days, neither of you will be eligible for benefits on the other’s record. The date the divorce becomes final is the date that determines the length of the marriage. This can be helpful when one spouse did not work, or worked very little, during the course of the marriage and the other one earned a significant amount of money. If the 10 year mark is not too far in the future, the couple may decide to put off the final dissolution date so the lower earning person may have the future benefit to look forward to.
Other relevant factors
- If you do collect benefits on your ex-spouses record, it has no effect on what your ex or a current spouse can collect. Your ex will not even be notified that you are collecting.
- You have to be at least 62 years of age to be eligible.
- You have to have been divorced for at least two years.
- You must be unmarried at the time you apply for benefits even if you remarried and that marriage also ended in divorce.
- The benefit on your own record must be less than the benefit on your ex’s record.
- You will receive half the amount of the full retirement amount your ex is eligible to receive.
Widow/Widower benefits for ex-spouses
If your ex-spouse dies, and you were married 10 years or more, you are entitled to receive 100 percent of your ex-spouses benefit. This has no effect on how much the current spouse or any children will receive. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) also applies to widower/widower’s benefits.
According to the GPO, if you collect a government pension from a job like Civil Service where your employer did not pay into Social Security, two-thirds of the amount of your pension will be subtracted from the 50 percent of the ex-spouses benefits you are expecting if your ex is alive, or from the 100 percent you are expecting if your ex is deceased. The GPO may result in you receiving very little benefit money or none at all. For example, if you expected to receive $400 from your spouse’s record, but are receiving $600 from a government pension that did not pay Social Security taxes, $400 (two-thirds of $600) will be subtracted, or offset, from the $400 you are expecting to receive leaving you zero benefit.
Social Security law is complex. If you have questions about your divorce and Social Security benefits, call a family law attorney who will be able to help you understand.