Q. When do Social Security Benefits begin after I divorce, and what might
I be entitled to?
A. Although retirement benefits can begin at age 62, the amount received
will be at least 20 percent less than the full benefits would be at normal
These are 65 years if born before 1937; for those born between 1938 and
1954, between 65 years and 2 months to 66; from 1955 to 1960, 66 years
plus 2 months for each year after 1955; and, if born after 1960, benefits
begin at 67.
When a divorced dependent spouse elects to receive benefits at age 62,
these benefits will be reduced by about 25%. Medicare benefits do not
begin until age 65, except as recently changed in the federal health legislation.
This means that conditioning a reduction of alimony upon anticipated receipts
at age 62 will result in an important lifetime loss of retirement benefits
and may necessitate the purchase of health care insurance until age 65.
Another important limitation on when benefits can begin is when a divorced
spouse seeks to collect derivative benefits based upon the earnings of
a former spouse who has not yet applied for benefits, even though they
are age 62 or older and have qualified for benefits.
In such situations the dependent spouse must wait until two years after
the entry of the divorce decree to begin collecting these derivative benefits
(they are entitled to collect the benefits they themselves paid in). Pay
attention to this if you are the older spouse.
By the way, Social Security benefits are obviously governed by federal
law. They are not "property" within the meaning of California
family law. There is nothing to divide - and the benefits get distributed
by the feds no matter what a settlement agreement or stipulated judgment says.
Have more questions about Social Security in divorce?
Thurman W. Arnold III