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Can Your Ex Take Your Social Security After Divorce?
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Can Your Ex Take Your Social Security After Divorce?

If you're divorced, you may have heard that your ex-spouse can take your Social Security. That's somewhat true in that Social Security rules may allow your former spouse to claim benefits on your record. That may seem like it adds insult to injury, especially given the financial havoc a divorce can create.

But even if your ex can use your earnings to take Social Security, you shouldn't stress over it because they really aren't taking anything from you. Read on to learn about the rules for Social Security and divorce.

Image source: Getty Images.

Your ex can't "take" your Social Security

A Fidelity survey of more than 1,000 adults found that 52% of respondents believed an ex-spouse could affect their Social Security benefits. However, this belief is completely false.

Social Security doesn't have a pile of money set aside for you. The money you pay in goes into a trust fund. Your benefits are based on how much you paid in, but your benefits are paid out of the trust fund -- not from some account Social Security designated for you.

If you were married for 10 years and have been divorced for two years, your ex-spouse may be able to claim benefits based on your work history, rather than theirs. But they aren't "taking" anything from you. The trust fund will simply pay out their benefits based on your record, rather than on theirs, if your record gives them a bigger benefit.

Your benefits aren't affected in any way. If you've remarried, your current spouse's benefits won't be affected, either.

How Social Security works for ex-spouses

If your ex-spouse wants to claim your Social Security, they'll have to wait until you're both at least 62, which is the minimum age for collecting benefits. It doesn't matter if you've started benefits -- only that you're eligible. It also doesn't matter whether you're currently married, but they need to be unmarried to use your record.

When your ex applies for benefits, Social Security will look at how much they qualify for on your record versus theirs. The most they can qualify for is 50% of your full retirement age benefit, and that's only if they wait until they've reached full retirement age. If they claim early, they'll get even less. If they started as soon as they turned 62, they'd receive just 32.5% of your primary insurance amount.

While you'll be able to earn 8% per year in delayed retirement credits for each year you hold out until age 70, their benefits max out when they reach full retirement age. They won't earn extra if you earn delayed retirement credits by waiting.

If your ex-spouse was employed for most of their adult life, there's a good chance they'll get more Social Security by taking benefits on their own record, rather than yours. Technically if your earnings history yields a bigger benefit for your ex, Social Security will use their record to qualify them for a benefit, then use your record to make up the difference and give them the higher amount.

If you die before your ex-spouse, they'll typically be eligible for survivor benefits, which range from 71.5% to 100% of your benefit. But as with ex-spousal benefits, your current spouse and anyone else who's eligible for survivor benefits won't be affected.

Can you stop your ex from using your Social Security record?

No. You don't have any say on whether your ex uses your earnings history to get benefits. Social Security doesn't need your consent, nor will you be notified if they're using your record for benefits.

Social Security's rules for divorced spouses exist because both people often contribute economically in a marriage, even if one spouse outearns the others. For example, ex-spouse benefits prevent homemakers and stay-at-home parents from being left with no retirement benefits should the marriage end.

The bottom line, though, is that you really shouldn't care about your ex's Social Security. Your ex's Social Security strategy has no effect on you, your family, or your money in any way. Focus instead on your own retirement planning and investing as much as possible.

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