Many older adults rely on Social Security benefits to make ends meet in retirement. In fact, around 37% of men and 42% of women rely on their monthly checks for at least half their retirement income, according to data from the Social Security Administration.
If you expect your benefits to be a substantial source of income throughout your senior years, it's wise to make sure you're earning as much as possible. And if you're divorced, there's one way you could potentially boost your benefit amount by roughly $800 per month: divorce benefits.
What are divorce benefits?
Whether you're currently married or were previously married and now divorced, you could be entitled to benefits based on your spouse's or ex-spouse's work record.
In either case, the maximum you can collect is 50% of the amount your spouse (or previous spouse) is eligible to receive at his or her full retirement age (FRA).
The average retiree will collect around $1,657 per month in benefits in 2022, according to the Social Security Administration. Say your ex-spouse will receive that amount at his or her FRA. You could be eligible for up to half of that in divorce benefits, or around $829 per month.
How to determine whether you qualify
Not all divorcees will qualify for divorce benefits, and there are a few eligibility requirements you'll need to meet.
First, your previous marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years. You also cannot currently be married to receive divorce benefits, but if your ex-spouse has remarried, it will not affect your ability to collect Social Security on his or her record.
In addition, if you're entitled to your own Social Security benefits, your amount must be smaller than what you'd receive in divorce benefits. You'll also only receive the higher of the two amounts, not both amounts combined.
So, for example, say you're eligible to receive $500 per month in benefits based on your own work record, and you could collect $800 per month in divorce benefits. In this scenario, you'd receive $800 per month because it's the higher of the two amounts. If you had been eligible for, say, $1,000 per month based on your own record, you would not qualify for divorce benefits at all.
Other ways to boost your benefits
Whether you're eligible for divorce benefits or not, there are ways you can increase the size of your monthly checks.
One option is to hold off on claiming Social Security by a few years. Although you can file for benefits as early as age 62, that will result in a reduction of up to 30%.
This is also true for divorce benefits. To receive the full amount you're entitled to in divorce benefits, you'll need to wait until your FRA to claim -- which is age 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later. File any earlier than that, and your monthly payment will be lower.
Working a few extra years could also increase your benefits. Your benefit amount is based on your 35 highest-earning years, so the more years you work and the higher your income, the more you can potentially receive.
Social Security benefits are an integral source of income for many retirees, and divorce benefits could boost your payments by hundreds of dollars per month. If you're eligible for this type of benefit, taking advantage of it could help maximize your income in retirement.