When California couples get married, most assume it will be for life. But things may happen to change these plans. The couple may divorce or one spouse die. Divorce, especially, can throw a monkey wrench into Social Security benefits.
When divorce or death occurs, one spouse may be eligible to collect Social Security benefits based on the other spouse’s earnings records. If one spouse earned significantly more money over their working career, it could translate into higher benefits for the ex-spouse who may have had a lower paying job or stayed home with the family. It all depends on how long the couple was married. In order for a divorced spouse to collect on the ex’s earnings, the couple must have been married at least 10 consecutive years. If the amount would be more than what the ex-spouse would qualify for on their own earnings record, they are entitled to an amount that represents 50 percent of what the other spouse receives when both reach retirement age.
Widows and widowers also may be eligible to receive 100 percent of the Social Security benefits the deceased spouse was receiving at the time of death. The couple must have been married at least nine months and still married at the time of one spouse’s death.
The end of a marriage, no matter how it ended, can present legal challenges. Collecting Social Security benefits on the other spouse’s earnings is possible, but may be more complicated than it appears. If no disputes are involved, an older couple may want to consider timing a divorce to maximize the other’s retirement benefits. A family law attorney may be needed to help explain the requirements and then assist a spouse in obtaining those benefits when they reach full retirement age.