Non-working ex-spouses earn Social Security benefits

| Oct 19, 2020 | Divorce |

When a couple is married and one spouse is the primary earner, that spouse’s Social Security benefits are intended to help fund retirement for both people. A lot of older Texas couples are divorcing closer to their retirement years, but that does not remove Social Security benefits for one spouse. Instead, that spouse might be able to obtain benefits based on the other spouse’s lifetime earnings.

Half benefit available for longtime ex-spouses

When a marriage lasts for at least a decade and ends in divorce, the spouse who earned less among the two already met the first qualifier to obtain benefits. That is at least a decade of marriage prior to divorce. Age is another qualifier. The former spouse seeking benefits and the primary earner each must be at least 62 years of age or otherwise qualified to draw a Social Security benefit. When the ex-spouse seeking a benefit files based on a former spouse’s lifetime earnings, the ex-spouse could get a benefit equal to half the amount of the primary earner.

Disqualifiers prevent benefits claims

Even when a marriage lasted more than 10 years and all other conditions are met for a spousal benefit, a couple things would stop that from happening. One is if the ex-spouse has remarried. If so, the new marriage applies regarding Social Security benefits. If the ex-spouse worked and qualifies for a benefit that is larger could be obtained via the lifetime earnings of a former spouse, then the ex-spouse cannot claim the lower benefit amount.

No limit on ex-spouses

Some people get married young and divorce while still relatively young after 10 years of marriage. Subsequent marriages might mean that more than one former spouse qualifies for a Social Security benefits based on a primary earner’s lifetime earnings. Television star Johnny Carson infamously had four ex-wives, three of whom qualified for and obtained Social Security benefits based on Carson’s earnings. The marriage did not last long enough for the fourth ex-wife to draw a benefit.

An individual must meet multiple criteria to qualify for an ex-spouse’s benefit, so they may have questions about the process. An experienced Texas family law attorney may help to explain how the Social Security benefit works in a particular case.