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Divorce and Social Security Benefits in North Carolina

Wedding.jpgFor many elderly Americans Social Security benefits are a critical component of their retirement plan. If you’re a baby boomer in charge of monitoring your parents’ finances or a retiree you should be aware that under certain circumstances it’s possible you might be receiving less than you should. If a woman is divorced or has been married more than once, or a woman’s husband delayed taking Social Security, she might be entitled to a bigger monthly benefit than she is currently receiving. Though the difference may not be huge, it could be critically important to someone with a limited or fixed income.

Discussing the ramifications of divorce on Social Security payments is fairly standard practice nowadays. That wasn’t always the case, however, and many older couples might never have been counseled on the possible impact.

Though the problems are faced by both men and women, the fact that women typically earn less over their working lives means that they are more likely to be collecting less in benefits then they may be entitled to due to earnings of a former spouse. This is because of rules which say an individual is entitled to collect Social Security benefits based on his or her own earnings history, or 50% of his or her spouse or former spouse’s benefit, if it is greater than his or her own, and 100% if the former spouse is deceased.

There are a few rules in order for this to apply to divorced couples: 1) the marriage must have lasted 10 years or longer, and 2) the individual seeking a former spouse’s benefit must currently be unmarried, unless the second (or third, or fourth…) marriage occurred after the age of 60.

A great example of this is as follows: your parents were married in the 1950s, your dad worked hard and your mom worked hard raising kids and working part-time at relatively low paying jobs when time allowed. Your parents later divorced and your mom’s Social Security benefit is now $800 per month while your dad’s stands at $2,000 per month. Rather than continue collecting the $800, your mother is actually entitled to collect $1,000 per month if your dad is still alive and the full $2,000 if he is deceased. As an added benefit, if the Social Security Administration determines a spouse is eligible for increased benefits then that person will receive retroactive benefits going back six months. It does not matter whether the spouse with the higher benefit remarried and getting this increase does not require their cooperation. The Social Security Administration has all the necessary information and makes the determination based on its own records.


This increase in benefits is important not only to family members watching out for an elderly loved one but also for those watching over senior citizens such as attorneys or debt counselors, even nursing home administrators and financial planners. If you find yourself facing the prospect of divorce and are in your golden years or know someone who is, you need to contact an experienced Charlotte family law attorney who can guide you through the complex process of unwinding a marriage.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Protecting Your Finances in a North Carolina Divorce

Divorce Can Kill