It depends. The simple litmus test is the 10-year rule: if the marriage lasted for more than 10 years, then yes, a lower-earning spouse can collect benefits based on the higher-earning spouse’s record.
If the marriage did not last 10 years, then no, the Social Security Administration will not pay benefits to one spouse on the record of another. If this is an issue, mediation can help spouses find and draw up alternative spousal support agreements that work for both parties.
Divorcing couples nearing or at retirement age should proceed carefully. There are some rules about when divorced spouses can apply for benefits based on the record of a higher-earning spouse. In addition, there are some complications if one spouse would like to retire early.
For more information on the issue of divorce and Social Security benefits, go to http://www.ssa.gov/retire2/divspouse.htm.
Gerald A. Maggio is an experienced Orange County divorce and family law lawyer and family law attorney located in Irvine, California, serving the Orange County and Riverside areas. Mr. Maggio assists clients with legal issues including divorce, legal separation, divorce mediation, child custody, prenuptial agreements, stepparent adoptions, and other family law issues. Mr. Maggio has practiced law in California since 1999, and founded The Maggio Law Firm in 2005, focusing exclusively on divorce and family law matters.