Terese J. Singer

Divorce and Social Security

Family Law Attorneys Counseling People in Milwaukee and Other Wisconsin Cities

For an increasingly large sector of the population, Social Security benefits are a primary source of income after retirement. The amount of benefits that an individual receives through Social Security depends in part on the amount that the individual paid into Social Security through payroll taxes over the years. For spouses, particularly women, who spent their working years taking care of family and a household, this may be worrisome when considering a divorce. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our Milwaukee divorce attorneys can carefully explain how Social Security benefits may be affected by a divorce.

Understanding Issues Related to Divorce and Social Security

The Social Security Administration recognizes that many families are structured so that one spouse works while the other stays at home and takes care of the kids. This stay at home parent spouse relies on the other for income, including Social Security income after retirement. In the event of a divorce, the stay at home spouse theoretically might lose out on access to Social Security benefits. In order to avoid this, the Social Security Administration has come up with a unique set of rules to address Social Security after divorce.

If you are an ex-spouse who was married for more than 10 years, you may claim Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s income and benefit eligibility. Your benefit will be calculated based on what your ex-spouse earned. Claiming benefits based on what your ex-spouse earned does not mean that you receive the same amount of benefits as your ex-spouse. Instead, you will be entitled to receive 50% of what your ex-spouse would receive at full retirement age. However, this ex-spousal benefit applies only if you have not remarried after your divorce. Upon remarriage, you lose your entitlement to benefits based on your ex-spouse and must instead apply for benefits based on your own income or the income of your new spouse.

The fact that you are collecting benefits based on your ex-spouse’s income does not affect your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits. They will remain entitled to the full amount, independent of any claim that you make. Likewise, if your ex-spouse begins to receive Social Security as well, this does not affect your eligibility for benefits in any way.

Survivor Benefits

Another important issue related to divorce and Social Security is that the Social Security Administration also provides benefits for individuals who are divorced and whose spouses have died. These are known as survivor benefits. Survivor benefits are also based on the income of the ex-spouse who is deceased. Any ex-spouse who was married for more than 10 years is entitled to survivor benefits. However, in addition, if you are taking care of a child of the deceased spouse under the age of 16, or of a disabled child, you are entitled to survivor benefits even if your marriage was shorter than 10 years. Thus, survivor benefits are potentially available to more ex-spouses than spousal benefits are. Importantly, getting remarried does not affect an individual’s continued eligibility for survivor benefits.

Contact a Milwaukee Attorney to Discuss Issues Related to Divorce and Social Security

If you are divorced and approaching the age at which you may be eligible for Social Security benefits, there is a good chance that you may be able to claim benefits based on your former spouse’s income if you were married for a sufficient period. A Milwaukee lawyer experienced in dealing with Social Security benefits can help you estimate what this amount is likely to be and assist you in applying for it. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our family law attorneys also advise Wisconsin residents on the pros and cons of seeking these benefits before full retirement age versus waiting until they are older. Contact our office at (414) 271-6400 or online to set up an appointment. We also represent people in Milwaukee, Mequon, Racine, Waukesha, West Bend, and other communities in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Waukesha, and West Bend Counties.

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