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7 Myths About Social Security and Divorce

Wife signing decree of divorce agreement prepared by lawyer.

Several misconceptions surround Social Security and divorce, even though the program has been around for over 85 years. To get things straight, here are 7 common myths about Social security and divorce and the facts that disprove them.

Wife signing decree of divorce agreement prepared by lawyer.

Myth #1: A Claim Will Reduce the Ex’s Checks

Up to 52% of adults surveyed said they believe that claiming social security based on an ex-spouse’s record could influence their benefits. The truth is, claiming Social Security benefits based on an ex’s record will have no impact on his or her benefits.

Myth #2: The Ex Must Sign Off

There’s no need to obtain permission to claim on an ex-spouse’s earnings record. An applicant will need to provide information about the ex-spouse to help locate the record, however, if a divorcee doesn’t have the ex’s Social Security number, it can be tracked using the ex-spouse’s name, date and place of birth, and the parent’s name.

Myth #3: A Divorce Decree Can Prohibit a Spouse From Getting Benefits

Some divorce decrees have clauses that ban one spouse from getting benefits off the other’s earning record. But as long as the couple was married for 10 consecutive years or longer, those clauses won’t be considered when reviewing an application for benefits.

Myth #4: The Ex-Spouse Has to Take The Benefits First

It doesn’t matter whether the ex-spouse has already claimed benefits or not. As long as the ex-spouse is eligible and the spouse claiming the benefit has reached age 62, the claimant can start drawing benefits.

Myth #5: People Can Get Delayed Credits if Claiming on an Ex-Spouse Record

When people claim on their own work record, they’ll be eligible for delayed retirement credits worth 8% a year when they delay filing for Social Security beyond full retirement age. This does not apply when benefits are based on an ex-spouse record.

Myth #6: A Switch Can Be Made to Get Higher Benefits

There’s some truth to this one. A person can take benefits on their ex-spouse’s record and then switch to their own larger benefits after reaching full retirement age. However, this option is only available to individuals born before January 1954.

Myth #7: A Choice Has to Be Made Between an Applicant’s and Ex-Spouse’s Benefits

When an application for benefits is made, Social Security will distribute whichever is higher: the applicant’s or the ex-spouse’s. If an ex-spouse’s earning record qualifies the applicant for more benefits, Social Security will give the applicant the amount they’re eligible for based on their own earnings, then use the ex-spouse’s record to give the difference.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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