Social Security was designed specifically with married couples in mind when it was first established. Benefits were tiered differently than for single individuals unless a married couple eventually divorced. It was also modified to remove spousal benefits for those who divorced after only a few years of marriage, setting the time frame for a substantial marriage that earned benefits at 10 years. This situation has a definite impact in the state of California due to the high number of people who will depend heavily on Social Security in the later stage of life or if they become disabled.
Planning for divorce
Anyone who has been married for several years and is considering divorcing should evaluate all financial aspects of what a separation may bring about. And that should not just be for short-term living concerns either, as retirement can be a very important element of life going forward. This is especially true for Californians who had a second marriage after a first marriage of less than 10 years. Waiting to divorce may be a prudent decision in some cases.
The Social Security Administration evaluates each benefit application diligently and makes decisions based on specifics. The primary specific for divorced individuals is the duration of their marriage with 10 years being the necessary amount of time to qualify for spousal benefits. And the SSA is not flexible in this regard, as even 9 years and 11 months before a divorce is not sufficient.
An ex-spouse with a 10-yr marriage can receive 50% of their former spouse’s Social Security when they retire or become disabled or if their former spouse dies. Applicants who have been married twice with both marriages lasting 10 years or more will typically automatically get the highest amount between former spouse contribution records.