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Can someone collect Social Security on an ex-spouse's record?

A divorce is the end of a marriage, but it isn't necessarily the end of all legal relationships between the spouses. If the ex-spouses have young children, there will be child support and child custody obligations. For some ex-spouses, there may be alimony obligations. The legal ramifications of a dissolved marriage may even affect Social Security benefits when an ex-spouse retires.

If you have been divorced, your ex-spouse may collect retirement benefits based on your Social Security record. This can be true even if you have remarried. However, if your ex has remarried, he or she generally can't collect benefits based on your record, unless the marriage ends in death or divorce.

For an ex-spouse to be able to collect Social Security retirement benefits, the marriage had to have lasted at least 10 years. The ex-spouse must be at least 62 years old. Of course, you must be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits yourself for an ex-spouse to be able to collect benefits based on your record. If you are eligible but have not yet applied for the benefit, the ex can collect the benefits so long as the divorce was finalized at least two years prior.

There are several important limits to an ex-spouse's right to collect based on your record. First, if your ex is entitled to collect benefits based upon his or her own Social Security record, the Social Security Agency will pay that amount first. However, if you made more money in your career or are otherwise entitled to a higher amount in retirement benefits, the ex-spouse may be able to get a dollar amount in benefits that adds up to the higher amount.

The whole question of retirement and Social Security benefits may seem very distant to Texas residents who are just trying to get out of a marriage gone bad. Skilled attorneys can help people going through divorce by taking a longer-term view and making public and private retirement benefits part of the picture when working toward a divorce settlement.

Source: SSA.gov, "Retirement Planner: Benefits For Your Divorced Spouse," accessed June 10, 2015

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