As married people planning for retirement know, Social Security benefits can go both to the person who paid into the system, and that person’s spouse. But what happens if you get divorced from your breadwinning spouse? Do you give up your Social Security?

Divorce certainly affects retirement plans in most cases, but many former spouses will still qualify for Social Security based on their ex’s record, even after getting divorced — and even if the breadwinning spouse gets married again.

The Social Security Administration’s website lays out the rules for qualifying for Social Security based on your ex’s work record. All of the following must apply:

  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years
  • You are currently unmarried
  • You are age 62 or older
  • The benefit you would be entitled to receive based on your own work history would be less than what you would receive based on your ex’s work history
  • You are entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits

If your potential benefits based on your own work record would be higher than the spousal benefit, SSA will give you a combination of benefits that equals the higher amount. Also, if you remarry, the benefits based on the ex’s record will end, until the subsequent marriage ends by death, divorce or annulment.

Getting Social Security makes a big difference for many retired people, but usually one needs more to have a comfortable retirement. Divorce can force you to change your retirement plans. A knowledgeable divorce attorney can help ensure that the property division keeps future plans in mind.