The division of retirement funds is indisputably one of the most confusing and frustrating aspects the divorce process. Once it's done, however, you have the assurance of knowing that a valuable source of income will be available to you upon you or your spouse's retirement. While spouses focus mainly on private plans such as 401(k)s, pensions and IRAs, they often forget about Social Security benefits, which is money that you are entitled to upon retirement or disability. In fact, most people are not aware that in some cases, an individual can collect benefits under a former spouse, even if that spouse remarries. This is similar to dependent spouse benefits, which individuals can collect under their spouse's record, as long as they are at least 62 years of age. You are qualified to receive benefits under your former spouse if:
- You are not married.
- You are at least 62 years old.
- Your marriage lasted at least 10 years.
- Your former spouse is eligible to receive retirement or disability benefits.
- You have been divorced from your spouse for 2 or more years.
- You are not entitled to a higher benefit amount under your own work record.
It's important to note that your ex does not need to be receiving his or her benefits in order for you to file a claim. As long as your ex is eligible to receive, and you meet all the other qualifications, you are eligible to collect dependent benefits under your former spouse. Furthermore, you are eligible to continue receiving benefits upon your former spouse's death, although you must continue to meet all the aforementioned qualifications. Of course, at some point, especially upon your full retirement age (currently 66 or 67), your own benefit rate may be higher than what you are receiving as a dependent. In that case, you will need to file a new claim under your own work record.
In either case, you can file a claim online at https://www.ssa.gov/, or by going to your local Social Security Office. Most people choose to file online, since you can do it at your own pace it in the comfort of your own home. You can even check on your application status online, although you will need to wait for an official letter to find out if you have been approved or denied. If your situation is complicated, or you are not sure how to answer certain questions on the application, you will need to speak with a representative at your local Social Security office. You should call the office ahead of time to verify what documents you need to bring, but as a general rule, you will need to provide the following: birth certificate or certificate of naturalization, marriage certificate, W2 or other tax forms for the previous year, and your final judgement of divorce.
For more information on your Social Security rights after divorce, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.