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If Your Ex Claims Spousal Benefits, Will It Affect Your Social Security?

By Christy Bieber - Apr 9, 2021 at 9:50AM

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If you're worried your payments will be reduced by your former spouse's choices, read this.

Divorce can create a lot of financial complications. That's true not just in the short term as you divide up property, but also potentially in the long term if your ex is entitled to a share of your pension funds or other retirement income.

One issue you may be concerned about when ending your marriage is whether or not your ex-spouse's eligibility for spousal benefits from Social Security could affect your own income in retirement.

The good news: This isn't something that you should have to worry about. Here's why. 

Wedding cake with husband and wife toppers facing opposite directions

Image source: Getty Images.

How spousal benefits work after divorce

Social Security spousal-benefit rules allow a lower-earning (or nonworking) spouse to obtain benefits based on the other spouse's work history.

These benefits aren't just available to people who are currently married. Ex-spouses who were legally wed for at least 10 years and who haven't remarried can also collect spousal benefits based on their former partner's work history. 

This means that if you are divorced and your ex earned less than you did, it's very possible that your ex will get benefits based on the Social Security taxes that you paid over your career. 

These spousal benefits can be claimed by your ex as early as age 62. And, depending on when the claim is made, the monthly income could equal as much as half of your primary benefit (the standard benefit you receive if you retire at full retirement age). 

Once your ex-partner has become eligible for spousal benefits based on the length of your marriage, you do not have any input into when or if spousal benefits are claimed. Ex-spouses are free to start their checks whenever they are ready.

If you were still married, your spouse would not be able to claim spousal benefits until after you had already filed for your own Social Security retirement income. But if you divorced at least two years ago, then this rule no longer applies. 

How does your ex-spouse claiming benefits affect you?

Since your ex-partner could potentially receive thousands of dollars a year in Social Security spousal benefits based on your work history, you may be concerned that this could reduce your own retirement checks.

You'll be happy to know it doesn't have any effect on your retirement income. You'll receive the same amount of benefits as you'd get if you didn't have an ex-spouse claiming on your record. Like any other retiree, your benefits will be based on your earnings over your career and the age when you start getting your checks. 

If you have remarried and your current partner wants to claim spousal benefits on your work history, that's allowed regardless of any retirement funds paid out to your ex. And if you have multiple ex-spouses, each of whom qualifies for benefits after a marriage lasting at least 10 years, this would not impact your retirement income, either. 

Because of privacy rules, you likely will not even be aware of ex-partners claiming their Social Security benefits, even if they're using your work history to do it. So don't worry if you find out your ex plans to claim spousal benefits -- your own retirement income from this important entitlement program will remain the same as it would be had you never married or divorced at all. 

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