Going through a divorce brings up a lot of questions you may have never before considered. Issues like property division, child custody and spousal support are things you’ll likely learn a lot about. But one question that doesn’t get asked as much is about Social Security. It’s a particularly important question for a spouse who has worked outside the home very little, or not at all.
What if you didn’t work at all outside the home?
Eligibility for Social Security benefits is based on your paychecks, throughout your working life. Each time you get paid, a portion of your pay is redirected to the Social Security fund, so that it’s available when you retire. If, during the course of your marriage, you were a stay-at-home spouse, it means you didn’t develop your own record for the purposes of Social Security eligibility.
However, all is not lost, because you may be able to receive benefits based on the record of your former spouse. Following your divorce, there are some requirements you have to meet to be eligible through your ex-spouse. Your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years and you must remain unmarried afterward. You must also be at least 62 years old, unless you have a disability – if you do, you may be able to draw benefits as early as 50 years old.
The amount you receive depends on the age you begin taking benefits and the total amount of benefits your ex-spouse is entitled to. But the most you can receive is 50% of the maximum amount your ex-spouse could receive themselves.
What if you have at least some work history of your own?
If you have some work history, there’s a good chance you’ll be eligible for Social Security benefits on your own record. However, if that amount turns out to be less than what you would receive if you collected benefits from your ex-spouse’s record, you can do both. You will receive your own benefits first, but then the difference can be paid to you through your ex-spouse’s record.