Social Security Benefits After Divorce

older couple arguing over paperwork

Social Security benefits play a major role in many people’s retirement plans. Maximizing these benefits may be more complex when a couple begins the divorce process at or near retirement age. There are also important considerations regarding Social Security benefits even for couples who divorced earlier in life and are now approaching retirement.

In order to receive the full Social Security retirement benefits you deserve, it is critical to have a detailed understanding of the intricate rules that determine how much you can receive each month. Getting help from an experienced divorce attorney can help you understand the regulations regarding Social Security benefits and divorce so that you can maximize the amount of your monthly check.

At Charles R. Ullman & Associates, our North Carolina divorce attorneys understand the importance of analyzing and applying the rules regarding Social Security and divorce in order to secure full benefits for our clients. We can help you address the issues related to Social Security and other forms of retirement benefits to ensure that your best interests are protected.

Social Security Is Not Divided Like Other Retirement Funds

When a couple gets divorced, pensions and retirement accounts are generally split in a procedure known as equitable distribution or asset division. Examples of retirement funds that may be divided and distributed during a divorce include pensions, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k) accounts and 403(b) accounts, among others. The final divorce decree or separation agreement typically sets out how the money in these retirement vehicles will be divided between the divorcing spouses.

Social Security retirement benefits are different. There is no procedure for including Social Security payments in the division of assets during a divorce. However, the court may take into account the parties’ Social Security benefits when considering other matters related to the divorce.

Even though Social Security benefits are not included with other retirement funds when dividing assets in a divorce, that does not mean divorce has no effect on the size of Social Security payments a divorced spouse may receive. In fact, there are certain circumstances in which you may be able to receive a larger Social Security check based on your ex-spouse’s earning record.

Collecting Social Security Based on Your Ex’s Work Record

Collecting Social Security Based on Your Ex’s Work RecordAlthough a divorced spouse cannot lay claim to a portion of his or her ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits, it may be possible to recover more money from Social Security based on an ex-spouse’s work record. According to Social Security’s rules, a divorced person may claim benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record if:

  • You were married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years.
  • You are now unmarried.
  • You are 62 or older.
  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security benefits.
  • You would receive a smaller Social Security benefit based on your own work history than you would based on your ex-spouse’s work history.

If all of these conditions are true in your situation, you may receive the larger benefit amount based on your ex-spouse’s record. Doing so will not reduce the amount of Social Security benefits your ex-spouse receives. In fact, the Social Security Administration will not inform your ex that you are claiming benefits based on his or her record.

If you claim Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record, it also will not affect what your ex-spouse’s new wife or husband can claim.

It is important to remember that you usually cannot qualify for Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record if you remarry.

There are many financial considerations that play a role in determining when it is the best time to claim Social Security retirement benefits and how to optimize the amount you can receive from the system. You should consider discussing your situation with a qualified financial planner to help make that determination.

If Your Ex-Spouse Is Deceased

Your potential Social Security benefits may also be affected if your ex-spouse has died. The death of your ex-spouse may allow you to claim benefits based on his or her work record earlier – as early as age 60, or as early as age 50 if you are disabled.

You may also be able to collect survivor benefits based on your now-deceased ex-spouse’s work record even if you remarry, so long as you remarried after you turned 60, according to an article by the Charles Schwab Foundation.

Concerned about Social Security Benefits in a Divorce? Our Raleigh Divorce Lawyers Can Help

Concerned about Social Security Benefits in a Divorce? Get Legal Help NowAt Charles R. Ullman & Associates, we recognize that when it comes to divorce, the consequences for you and your family are quite serious, especially when considering your future and your retirement.

We’re here to help. If you would like more information, or to schedule a confidential consultation with our Raleigh divorce lawyers regarding Social Security benefits and retirement assets in your divorce or other matters, contact us by calling us toll-free or by filling out our online contact form.



Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.