Social Security and Divorce: What Women Need to Know

social security and divorce

If you have an ex-spouse, you really need to understand the rules on Social Security and divorce.

Especially if you’re a woman!

Why? Because Social Security is much more important for most women than it is for men. That’s not just what I think, or based solely on observations after more than a decade of financial planning, that’s what the Social Security Administration says.

In their publication “Social Security is Important to Women,” they state that in 2014 the average male’s Social Security benefit was $16,398. For a female, the average is only $12,520. This is primarily due to women not having the work history or earnings that their male counterparts do.


social security benefits by gender

In addition to having a lower SS benefit, females depend on their benefits to meet a great percentage of their living expenses. Among single Social Security recipients, men rely on Social Security for 35.9% of their total income. Women count on Social Security for more than half!

dependence on social security benefits by gender

These numbers clearly illustrate that women need to understand the rules on Social Security for ex-spouses.

Divorce is difficult. Though I’ve never personally been through it, I’ve watched as dozens of my clients and friends have gone through the process. From my side of the desk, I often see the financial impact of a divorce. I’ve yet to see a single divorce where either spouse emerged with a higher net worth.  Everything changes.  So before you sit down with your financial planner to rethink out your retirement income strategy, here’s what you need to know about Social Security and divorce.

The Rules

There are two main rules you need to know before you start:

  • Your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years.
  • You must be 62 or older (or 60 if your ex-spouse is deceased).

It’s also important to understand that:

  • There are different rules for ex-spouses that are still living and ex-spouses that have passed away.
  • Your benefits will be based upon your ex-spouse’s benefits at full retirement age, and will not be based upon any increased benefits that your ex-spouse receives for delaying the receipt of benefits.
  • There is a steep penalty for starting benefits before your full retirement age, and, for spousal benefits, there is no additional benefit to waiting beyond your full retirement age.

If Your Ex-Spouse is Still Alive

If you’ve met the length of marriage rules, and your ex-spouse is still living, you are eligible for the greater of:

  • your own benefit, or
  • up to 1/2 of your ex-spouse’s full retirement age benefit.

Here’s an example:

Your ex-spouse has a full retirement age benefit amount of $2,000. Based on that alone, you could expect to receive $1,000 spousal benefit at your full retirement age.  However, the actual amount you receive may be less, based upon the age that you file for benefits.  Depending on how old you are when you file, the spousal benefit amount will range between 32.5% and 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s full retirement benefit.

In the chart below, we’ll assume that your full retirement age is 67 (the full retirement age for those born in 1960 or later). We’ll continue the assumption that your ex-spouse’s full retirement age benefit is $2,000 per month.


You probably noticed the penalty for filing early. You may have also noticed that the spousal benefit does not increase beyond your full retirement age. So, if a spousal benefit is highest benefit that you are entitled to, there is usually not a good reason to delay filing beyond your personal full retirement age.

If you are divorced, and your ex-spouse has not yet filed for benefits, you must have been divorced for at least two years before you can claim benefits based upon your ex-spouse’s history.

If Your Ex-Spouse is Deceased

I think that the survivor benefit available to spouses (and sometimes ex-spouses) is one of the most generous benefits from Social Security.   As long as the length of marriage rules are met, the surviving spouse will receive the highest of either his/her own benefit or the benefit of the deceased ex-spouse.

You can receive a survivor benefit at 60.

Once again, there is significant incentive to wait until full retirement age, and no value in delaying benefits past full retirement.

If You’ve Been Married More Than Once

What  if you’ve been married more than once?

If you are not currently married, and you’ve met the length of marriage requirements for each period of marriage, you can pick and choose from the highest benefit available. If circumstances change, if an ex-spouse dies for example, you could switch from a spousal benefit on one spouse to a survivor benefit on another.

If you have remarried, and are currently married, then you are not eligible to claim spousal benefits from a prior marriage.

What About Medicare?

If you don’t qualify for benefits on your own work history, you will be able to get Medicare benefits if your ex-spouse qualifies for Medicare (paid Medicare tax for 40 credits) and you were married for 10 years.

The rules for Social Security benefits for former spouses are pretty generous and the program can provide much-needed income during retirement years.  Understanding the rules is key to receiving the maximum benefit to which you are entitled.


Social Security Credits

Social Security Basics


Video: Social Security for Educators (and other public servants)

Social Security is different for educators. It’s more complicated, and the rules aren’t always fair.

If you’re an educator, when your turn comes to file for Social Security benefits you may need to fight for what’s rightfully yours. But first, you need to understand the rules!

Thankfully, it’s not that hard. In this video I’ll help to simplify the rules.

Here are a few of the areas I’ll cover:
– How Your Teacher’s Pension Will Affect Your Benefit Amount
– The Windfall Elimination Provision
– The Government Pension Offset
– Can You Expect to Collect Spousal Benefits?
– Will You Be Eligible for Survivor Benefits?
– Strategies to Reduce the Impact of These Rules


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Your Top 5 Social Security Questions Answered

Even though Social Security benefits depend on many variables, there are a lot of questions that are asked by nearly everyone.   In my practice helping people understand their Social Security benefits, there are five questions that come up regularly.  You probably have these questions, too.  Read on to find the answers to the five most frequently asked Social Security 5 social security questions

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VIDEO: Social Security Basics

What You Need To Know

Before you file for Social Security, you need to do your homework. Why? Because you only get one chance to get your filing decision right. If you make a mistake, it could cost you – and the loved ones you leave behind – thousands of dollars in missed benefits. GOOD NEWS! IT’S NOT THAT HARD. After spending the last several years studying, speaking and writing on Social Security, I’ve learned that most questions can be answered within one of the Social Security basics.

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Mailbag: Gross vs. Net Wages for the Social Security Earnings Limit

answers to social security questions

A reader wants to know what earnings will count towards the Social Security income limit.


I am 65 years old and went back to work 3 days a week and draw social security. My taxable income for 2 weeks is $1063, I now am taking $160 out of my check at putting in my Ky deffered account and now my taxable income is $904. My question is what amount is counted toward my limit of $15,720.


This is a great question! When the Social Security Administration defines which earning count towards the income limit, they will use the general terms “wages” and “net income from self-employment.” If you’re not self-employed, this leaves many to wonder if the countable wages are gross (before deductions) or net (after deductions).

I had this same question at a recent webinar.  A participant in California was earning $28,000 per year in part time work. She was contributing $15,000 to her 401k. Her question was very similar to yours. “Will they consider me to have earned $28,000 or $13,000?” I didn’t have to dig far to find the definitive answer. You can see this too in the Social Security’s piece “How Work Affects Your Benefits.”

“We do count an employee’s contribution to a pension or retirement plan, however, if the contribution amount is included in the employee’s gross wages.”

 That’s pretty clear. The amount of income used to determine whether or not you are subject to the earnings test is your gross wages.

Something else about your question that stood out to me was that you are currently 65 years of age. In my article The Social Security Earnings Limit and Working In Retirement, I discuss how the earnings limit The Social Security earnings limit is split into two categories.

1) Earnings when you are age 62 through January 1 of the year you attain full retirement age

2) Earnings after January 1 of the year you reach full retirement age

In the first category, the limit is $15,720. If your earnings exceed that amount, the Social Security Administration will withhold $1 for every $2 over the limit.

The second category begins on January 1 of the year you attain full retirement age. During that period you can earn $41,880 before the Social Security earnings limitation is applied. If you go over that amount, they will withhold $1 for every $3 over the limit.

So, if you are turning 66 this year, your current Social Security benefit may not be subject to the earnings limit at all.

If you are subject to the earnings limitation, I would suggest not waiting for the Social Security Administration to cut off your benefit. Instead, I’d recommend that you voluntarily suspend benefits. If you wait on them to cut you off, your risk of an overpayment notice is higher.

In any case, if your benefits begin to be withheld because you are making too much, don’t worry…you aren’t missing payments that you’ll never get back. The Social Security Administration will simply recalculate your benefit amount at your full retirement age (or when you stop working) to reflect the months that benefits were withheld.

I hope this helps!

A note for all readers

First, thanks for being a loyal reader and supporter of my blog! I’m continually amazed at the month over month increase in visitors.

As the number of readers increase, so do the emails I receive. Most of these questions are from visitors who have a Social Security issue and cannot find the help they need. Since I think solid Social Security advice is so important, I have tried to answer every email that I receive. However, I simply can’t keep up. The quantity of incoming email has just gotten too high.

That stinks because I love interacting with my readers and answering Social Security questions!

In the future I’ll continue to answer as many questions as possible. The questions and answers that’ll have priority are those that may benefit a wider audience. I’ll answer the question and then publish the Q&A on my blog. (Don’t worry, I’ll change up enough personal details so you’ll stay unknown.)

If you want to make sure I answer your question, I am still accepting individual consultations. You can click HERE for more information on booking.

Thanks for reading!

How To Calculate Social Security Benefits: 4 Easy Steps

Step-By-Step Video Guide

It’s important for you to understand how to calculate Social Security benefits. Sure, the Administration will perform this calculation for you, but if you understand the process used you may be able to spot errors and fix mistakes before it’s too late.

Here’s how to calculate your benefit amount in 4 easy steps.

Transcript of video is below:

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Social Security Credits

How Many Will You Need?

Social Security Credits

Social Security credits are the building blocks that the Social Security Administration relies on to determine whether or not you qualify for one of its programs.  In 2016, you receive one credit for each $1,260 of earnings, up to the maximum of four credits per year. The amount of earnings needed to earn a credit increases annually as average wage levels increase.

One stipulation is that your earnings must be subject to Social Security tax to count for a credit.  In exchange for this tax, you are eligible for the following important benefits:

  • Social Security Retirement Benefits
  • Social Security Disability Benefits
  • Social Security Survivor Benefits
  • Medicare

Each of these programs have different requirements for the number of credits to gain eligibility.  Here’s a quick look at the eligibility for each. 

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Mailbag: Trigger for The Government Pension Offset

answers to social security questions

This reader had a question about avoiding the Government Pension Offset for as long as possible.


Enjoyed your informative article (“Your Social Security and Retirement Benefits”) in the latest issue of ATPE News magazine.

I am an ex-serviceman (24-year career, US Army), currently a teacher, and will not be affected by the WEP when I retire and begin collecting my TRS pension.

I do have a question about the GPO:  Can a spouse who is paying into TRS, not retired, and at FRA (under Social Security rules) apply for a spousal support benefit (under SS) when her husband who is at FRA applies for SS benefits?


I like this kind of question. It makes me think!

What I’m pretty sure you’re asking is this: If you are not receiving your pension from non-covered work, does the Government Pension Offset apply?

The simple answer is…NO!

If you are still working and your spouse has filed for benefits, you can file for and receive a Social Security benefit that is not affected by the Government Pension Offset. Enjoy it while it last. Once you retire, your Social Security benefit will get reduced by 2/3 of the amount of your TRS pension.

A note for all readers.

Over the past few years, I’ve found that most Social Security questions can be answered with an understanding of just six  simple Social Security basics. I cover these basics in a 100% free report that you can download by clicking HERE.

If you still have questions after reading this report, send me an email.  I can’t promise that I’ll respond individually, but I love interacting with my readers and answering Social Security questions! The questions and answers that’ll have priority are those that may benefit a wider audience. I’ll answer the question individually and then publish the Q&A on my blog. (Don’t worry, I’ll change up enough personal details so you’ll stay unknown.)

If you want to make sure I answer your question, I am still accepting individual consultations. You can click HERE for more information on booking a call with me.

Thanks for reading!


Mailbag: Switching from Disability to Retirement Benefits

answers to social security questions

A reader has a question about the suitability of switching from Social Security disability benefits to Social Security retirement benefits.


Dear Mr.Carroll,

I was awarded Social Security disability prior to age 62. I and am now age 62 and am entitled to Social Security retirement benefits simultaneously with disability benefits.

Also, I have three minor children currently receiving auxiliary benefits on my DIB.

I am interested in applying for Social Security retirement benefits since it may yield me an overall larger family-benefit (even if my personal-benefit (reduced-RIB) will be smaller than DIB).

I specifically am interested in how my Social Security Retirement Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) may be calculated relatively (from how my Disability-PIA was previously calculated).

My Questions, please:

Will my RIBPIA be calculated, like my DIB-PIA was, using the:

  • “freeze” (excluded the 4-years of my disability prior to my disability onset date and used only 31 of the usual 35-yrs) or will it calculate my RIB-PIA using the usual 35-yrs?
  • the national average wage index (NAWI) factor previously used to calc my DIB (2-yrs prior to my disability onset date) or will it calculate my RIB-PIA using my new age-60 NAWI?

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Mailbag: The Social Security Family Maximum

answers to social security questions

Question on the application of the Social Security Family Maximum


Here’s my situation:
At 66 I filed and suspended my social security benefits.
I have a 15 year old daughter at home.

Currently, my wife is receiving a Social Security benefit for a “child in care” and my daughter is receiving a benefit as well. My understanding is that my daughter will continue to receive her benefit until she is 18 and my wife will receive her “child in care” benefit until my daughter is 16.

My question is, if I decide to take my benefits before I turn 70, do the “spousal child care” and “child under age 18” disappear?

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