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Divorce and Social Security Benefits


Going through a divorce may require you to re-evaluate many of the plans you had while you were married, particularly when it comes to financial matters. It is likely that the things you counted on for your future financial security are going to be affected by the divorce settlement. One issue that people may overlook when going through divorce is how Social Security benefits may be affected. Often, people do not take a look at this issue until they get near retirement age. However, divorce can affect Social Security benefits long before retirement age. If you are pursuing a divorce in Atlanta or the surrounding area, contact the family law lawyers at the Law Offices of Thomas C. Rowsey. We can help you understand how dissolving a marriage may affect your financial future.


In order to qualify for Social Security benefits when you retire (or otherwise qualify for benefits, such as through a disability), you must accrue “credits” during your lifetime. By law, you may receive up to four credits per year, with one credit for each $1,220 that you earn in a calendar year. Once you earn a total of 40 credits, you are entitled to receive Social Security benefits, providing you meet the conditions for eligibility.

Typically, an individual who works for a living will pay into Social Security during his or her working life and can expect to receive Social Security retirement benefits based upon what he or she has paid into the system. Then, depending upon the age at which the individual opts to receive benefits, he or she may begin collecting Social Security.

However, it is also true that you can potentially qualify for benefits through your spouse’s earnings, even if you have not earned sufficient credits, or your earnings are much lower than your spouse’s. Consequently, for many people, it is important to find out what will happen to those Social Security benefits upon divorce.

As long as your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you may still qualify for Social Security benefits based upon your ex-spouse’s earnings if, at the time you apply:

  • You are at least 62 years old;
  • You are unmarried;
  • Your ex-spouse is able to collect Social Security benefits; and
  • The amount you are entitled to receive based upon your own earnings history is less than what you would receive under your spouse’s benefit.

The amount you are entitled to receive through your ex-spouse is up to one-half of your ex-spouse’s benefit, even if your ex-spouse has remarried. If you and your spouse are younger than the full retirement age, the benefit may be less. Furthermore, you may be entitled to this benefit even if you subsequently remarried but are currently unmarried, either through divorce, annulment, or widowhood. If your spouse is eligible for but has not applied for retirement benefits, you may still collect benefits based upon your spouse’s earnings as long as you have been divorced for at least two years.

These special provisions for Social Security can be a real boon to spouses who had low or no earnings during their married life because they relied upon a spouse’s income for current and future living expenses. It is also reassuring for higher-earning spouses to know that even if an ex-spouse opts to collect benefits based upon their earnings, their own Social Security benefits as well as any current spouse’s benefits will not be reduced as a result.


Divorce involves making many decisions and agreements about your financial future, such as dividing marital assets and calculating spousal support. In your planning, you should not neglect taking a serious look at retirement issues, including Social Security—even if your retirement may be years away.

The Social Security system contains many technicalities and conditions that can be difficult to understand and that can greatly affect how much you receive and when. The divorce attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas C. Rowsey are skilled in guiding Atlanta residents through these complicated matters. Call us at (770) 993-5317, or use our online form to set up a consultation. We also represent individuals in Georgia communities such as Alpharetta, Sandy Springs, Marietta, Johns Creek, Milton, and Roswell.