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Social Security, Marriage, and Divorce

A married person can collect retirement benefits based on his or her own earnings from work, or an amount equal to 50 percent of the other spouse's retired-worker benefit—whichever is the higher amount. The following examples illustrate how these benefits are calculated.

Example: Mrs. Williams will get a retirement benefit of $1,200 a month based on her work record. Mr. Williams is entitled to a retirement benefit of $500 a month based on his own work history. He will receive his own $500, plus an additional $100 to bring his total to $600 a month, based on 50 percent of Mrs. Williams' benefit. Total family benefits for the Williams household will be $1,800 a month.

Example: Mrs. Rodriguez is entitled to a retirement benefit of $1,100 a month based on her work history. Her husband will get a benefit of $1,400, which would provide a spousal benefit of $700. Mrs. Rodriguez receives her own benefit of $1,100 a month, because that is the larger of the two amounts. Total family retirement benefits: $2,500 a month.

How does divorce affect Social Security benefits? A person who had been married for at least ten consecutive years–and is now single– can get the 50 percent spousal benefit even if the couple has divorced. A surviving divorced spouse can get the 100 percent survivor benefit if unmarried or remarried after the age of 60. A disabled former spouse is eligible for this benefit at age 50.

Example: Fred and Mary Simmons were married for twelve years and are now divorced. Fred is retiring at age 65 and drawing $1,300 in Social Security benefits. Mary, who is single and age 65, can draw a benefit of $650 a month. Upon Fred's death, she can receive $1,300 a month.

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* The views of Academy members are their own and not an official position of the National Academy of Social Insurance or its funders.