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Does Marital Status Affect Social Security Benefits?

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The amount an individual may collect in Social Security benefits may vary depending on their marital status. In today’s blog, we discuss how marital status might impact your eligibility to claim spousal benefits and the requirements to file for married couples, divorced couples, and widows/widowers.

Marital Status and Social Security Benefits

Married Couples

Married couples receive the higher of their own Social Security benefit or half of their spouse's benefit at their full retirement age (FRA), which is 66 or 67 depending on the person's birth year. Note that you must work at least 10 years in order to qualify for Social Security benefits based on your own work record, but you can claim spousal benefits without ever working as long as your spouse is eligible for Social Security. However, you cannot claim these spousal benefits until your spouse files for Social Security.

The spousal benefit can be as much as 50% of the worker's "primary insurance amount," depending on your spouse's age at retirement. If the spouse begins receiving benefits before FRA, they will receive a reduced benefit. However, if a spouse is caring for a qualifying child, the spousal benefit is not reduced. Note that a qualifying child refers to a child under the age of 16 or who receives Social Security disability benefits.

Divorced Couples

The rules surrounding Social Security benefits for divorced couples are similar to the rules for married couples. Keep in mind that you must have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years in order to claim benefits on their work record. You also cannot remarry if you intend to claim spousal benefits on your ex's work record, because if you remarry you may claim spousal benefits on your new spouse's work record rather than on your ex-spouse’s.

If you do not remarry and seek to claim benefits from your ex-spouse, you do not have to wait for them to begin claiming Social Security in order to file for spousal benefits. If you are 62 years of age or older and have been divorced for at least 2 years, you may file for Social Security benefits on your ex's work record even if they are not yet claiming benefits.

While a remarriage on your part may affect your ability to claim spousal benefits, your ex-partner remarrying will not impact your eligibility for spousal benefits. In other words, if you have not remarried, you are still eligible to receive benefits on your ex's work record even if they have remarried, and this will not impact the benefits your ex's new spouse may receive either.

Widows and Widowers

Widows and widowers are eligible for up to 100% of Social Security survivors benefits if their deceased spouse qualified for Social Security. Depending on their age at death, the deceased person may still be eligible for benefits even if they didn't work for 10 years. Individuals may begin claiming these survivors benefits as early as 60 years of age or 50 if they are disabled. Widows and widowers caring for the deceased worker's disabled child or child under 16 years of age, though, may begin benefits at any time. However, as with divorced couples, remarrying before age 60, or age 50 if you're disabled, will render you ineligible for survivors benefits.

Note that if you want to receive 100% of your deceased spouse’s Social Security benefit, you must wait until your FRA. If you begin before 60 (or 50 if you're disabled) because you're caring for a qualifying child, you will only get 75% of the deceased worker's benefit per check.

Speak with an Experienced Attorney to Learn More

If you plan to claim spousal benefits and are concerned about how marital status may affect the amount you can receive, consult an experienced attorney to discuss the details of your situation at length. Married couples are entitled to the higher earner’s Social Security benefits, though this can grow complicated in the case of divorce or death. Speak with the attorneys at Claery & Hammond, LLP to assess your specific case and how your eligibility for spousal benefits may change depending on your marital status.

Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP today to schedule a free consultation.

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