Berman & Asbel, LLP

Considering divorce and Social Security spousal benefits

When Pennsylvania residents approach retirement age, timing can make a huge difference in tapping into Social Security benefits. Early retirement can result in lower benefits, but waiting until reaching the age of 70 to access benefits allows time for one's maximum possible benefits to be achieved. Couples often coordinate their filing to make use of Social Security spousal benefits initially and maximized personal benefits later. A combination of factors could impact these options, especially if a divorce will be a consideration.

Recent legislation has changed the ability to file and suspend, the strategy that allows a spouse to collect their spousal benefits for a period of time before switching to collecting personal benefits. An individual must have reached 62 years of age prior to Jan. 2, 2016 to be grandfathered in. An individual who is able to collect spousal benefits via this strategy would continue to be entitled to those benefits after a divorce as long as the marriage has lasted for at least 10 years. At the age of 70, a divorced individual collecting those benefits could then collect their personal benefits.

An individual who would not be grandfathered in on the file and suspend option might want to be cautious in filing for spousal or other benefits until the full implications of the options are explored. Additionally, an individual who might be approaching retirement age and also considering divorce might want to consider the timing of the filing of the petition. Divorcing prior to reaching the 10-year anniversary of the marriage could erase valuable spousal benefits.

A person who is facing the end of a marriage during retirement years might find that there are several issues to consider, including those related to Social Security benefits. Additionally, retirement accounts belonging to either party could be at risk if a divorce occurs. Legal insight might be helpful for protecting such assets during the proceedings.

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