Gusty A.E. Sunseri & Associates, P.C. Attorneys at Law

Social Security Benefits May Be Affected by Divorce

Social Security benefits are usually the last thing on someone's mind when they are getting a divorce, but those benefits are going to matter. Around half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, and Social Security is the primary source of income for 72% of single retirees. Many of those single retirees are single because they are divorced.

Despite these statistics, very few people educate themselves about their options and understand what Social Security benefits will be available to them when they retire.

As one financial adviser has said, everyone buys into Social Security, but almost no one bothers to understand what they are buying. The Social Security Administration sends out statements to help people plan on what benefits to expect when they retire, but Pittsburgh divorce attorneys note that the statements do not tell much about what the options are for people who divorce.

What many people forget to explore are the spousal and survivor benefits. As they approach retirement, they need to understand the rules on these benefits.

The SSA has a help line (888-894-0351), and it is staffed with people who can give great information, but they can't help unless they are asked. They don't call people up to let them know that they are missing out on Social Security benefits.

Here is an example of what divorced people should know: If you were married for at least ten years to someone who paid into the Social Security system, you are entitled to a spousal benefit, even if you are divorced from that person. You are eligible whether or not you also worked and paid into the system.

The spousal benefit is usually equal to half of the wage earner's benefit, as long as it is claimed at full retirement age. If the benefit is claimed early, the amount is reduced.

If you worked for ten years and paid into the Social Security system, you also may be entitled to benefits on your own. If that is the case you must choose one or the other - you cannot claim both your own and spousal benefits. But you can certainly claim the one that gives you the most money.

Source: LA Times "Divorce can complicate Social Security claims" 3/6/2011

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