Determining spousal benefits from Social Security

When a California couple divorces after at least 10 years of marriage, one person might be eligible to draw Social Security benefits on the other person's earnings history. This does not affect the benefits of the estranged spouse, but it usually does require that his or her income of one person has been a great deal higher than that of the other.

A person's Social Security payment is determined by calculating what is called the Primary Insurance Amount. The PIA is the monthly average of the best 35 years of a person's earnings. Subtracting a person's PIA from half of the former spouse's PIA indicates how much the spousal benefit will be. If the amount is a negative number, the person is not due any spousal benefit.

The divorce must have been at least two years prior to the date of filing by the lower-earning former spouse, and both people must be at least 62 years of age. However, a person will generally get more by waiting for the full retirement age of 67 to start drawing benefits. In some cases, there may be an additional monetary benefit for waiting until the age of 70. The person receiving payment must still be single, or a subsequent marriage must have ended.

Unlike Social Security payments, dividing marital property means lessening the amount of assets any one person can keep. In California, a community property state, this means that even if one person has earned most of the income, the other person generally still has a right to half of the marital assets. This could include a retirement account. People should make sure they understand the regulations for dividing the retirement account in case there is paperwork that must be completed to avoid penalties and taxes. A family law attorney can often be helpful in this regard.

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    Attorney Wayne Dersch is a certified family law specialist.Learn More

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