If I only had a dollar for every time I heard the statement, “I want social security benefits through my spouse because I didn't work!” Although I usually cover this earlier in the case, people forget because it is a stressful time and there is so much going on.
So, here is a little social security and divorce primer.
Social Security is a federal program, governed by federal statutes and regulations—not your divorce agreement or Massachusetts law. This means your divorce agreement, or a Massachusetts probate and Family Court judge for that matter, is not able to alter the federal social security rules.
Of course, changes to the social security system could occur, but your divorce agreement cannot control that either unless you purchased the special Crystal Ball addendum.
Perhaps someday a politician will say, “If you like your social security, you can keep it,” but that's another story.
The Big Ten Year Mark
One key thing to remember is the ten-year marriage length. If you were married for at least ten years and are at least 62 years old, you qualify for social security benefits based upon your former spouse's contributions. This is especially important if you were not a working spouse and may not have much benefit based upon your own employment history.
Currently, you must be divorced at least two years before you can receive benefits, but you are entitled to them whether your ex-spouse claims them or not. Your receipt of such benefits does not change the benefits available to your ex.
Other points to consider regarding social security and Massachusetts divorce:
- If you are thinking of getting remarried and not far off from the age of 60, you might want to wait until you turn 60 to avoid the remarriage penalty.
- If you were married twice, and each marriage lasted at least ten years, you can claim benefits through the ex-spouse with bigger benefits.
- If you receive disability, widow, or widower's benefits, those benefits will continue to be available if you should remarry, so long as you are age 50 or above when you get remarried.
Now you know why your Massachusetts divorce agreement (also known as a separation agreement) does not have a section about social security benefits. Or why it wasn't part of your negotiations. For more information, I suggest the Social Security Administration website.
Divorce and Social Security
A final point to remember is that social security benefits are just one part of your safety net.
Make sure you are clear on what your alimony payments are likely to be, and protect this income with life insurance which should be negotiated as part of your settlement. The size of the marital estate and the property division you are able to achieve are also crucial.
We're experienced negotiators and are well-versed in divorce and family law. Contact us if you need help with your divorce and post-divorce issues.