Sunday, December 5, 2021

Questions on Social Security & Divorce



Ask The CFP® Pract itioner
Darcie Guerin

“The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.” Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959)

Question: I’m divorced, can I claim benefits based on the earnings of my ex-spouse?

Answer: There are a number of factors to examine before determining the answer. If your marriage lasted 10 years or more, you are age 62 or older, your ex-spouse is currently entitled to receive Social Security retirement benefits and you have not remarried, then the answer is yes.

Divorce often scrambles the retirement nest egg that couples have worked hard to accumulate. When the time comes to evaluate Social Security retirement income, it’s important to know your options.

Divorced spouses, men or women, can claim social security benefits based on the entire earnings history of an ex-spouse. The resulting benefit is equal to one-half of the ex-spouses benefit. When deciding which is advantageous, be aware that this is an “either-or” situation, no double dipping, you can’t have both. If one-half of your ex-spouse’s benefits are greater than yours, it may be worth pursuing this course of action rather than filing based on your earnings history.

If your ex remarries and you don’t, your Social Security entitlement will be unaffected. If you ex is married to a second spouse for at least ten years and they divorce, you and that second spouse will each be entitled to collect an amount equal to one-half of the former spouse’s benefits assuming each of you meet the requirements.

Liz Taylor was married 6 times, twice to Richard Burton and each of those times for more than ten years. Each of the other four marriages lasted less than six years so none of those gentlemen was able to file for Social Security based on Liz’s earnings record. In contrast, Paul Newman was married to Jackie Witt for ten years and then spent fifty years with Joanne Woodward; both women could collect based on Paul’s earnings.

On the other hand, if you remarry, look at your current spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA) when computing your dependent Social Security benefit. Don’t forget to consider that if you worked for a sufficient period of time, the benefit based on your earnings record, may be larger.

If an ex-spouse has died, you may also qualify for Social Security benefits. If you meet certain conditions, you may be entitled to a full widow or widower’s benefits; that is, you will collect an amount equal to 100 percent of your former spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA).

Approximately forty-five percent of marriages in the United States will eventually end in divorce. There are six divorce trends today; 1) The divorce rate is actually decreasing, but so is the rate of marriage which has been on the decline since 1981, 2) Women initiate sixty-six percent of divorces, 3) Grey divorce, or divorce among the older generation is on the rise. As a result users age 50-65 has increased eighty-nine percent over the last five years, 5) Divorce rates fluctuate by region (the West Coast has much higher rates than central United States). No one enters into a marriage planning to divorce yet it does occur.

There are many factors to consider when evaluating and qualifying for Social Security benefits. When working through the legal, financial, and psychological issues of divorce, allow yourself the benefit of working with trained professionals in each area. Awareness and working with experts will increase your understanding and reduce confusion during the process.

The information is general in nature; it is not a complete statement of all information necessary for making decisions. Consult for more details.

“Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP(R), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(tm) and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S.”

Darcie Guerin, CFP®, is Associate Vice President, Investments & Branch Manager of Raymond James & Associates, Inc. Member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC 606 Bald Eagle Dr. Suite 401, Marco Island, FL 34145. She may be reached at 239-389-1041, email

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