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Can a Divorced Spouse Collect Social Security from Their Spouse in NJ?

Navigating the complexities of Social Security benefits can be challenging enough on its own. It can be especially daunting in the wake of a divorce. 

However, taking some time to learn about your rights and entitlements—such as whether a divorced spouse can collect Social Security from their ex-partner in New Jersey—can give you a greater sense of financial security during a time of significant change. 

Dughi, Hewit, and Domalewski’s knowledgeable family law attorneys can walk you through the divorce process with compassion and vigorously protect your rights.

Social Security benefits and divorce

First things first: Social Security isn’t just for New Jersey residents. It’s a federal program, which means the rules apply no matter where you live.

Social Security replaces a percentage of your pre-retirement income, providing benefits based on your lifetime earnings and when you decide to retire. Your retirement age for full benefits depends on the year in which you were born.

You might assume that Social Security benefits belong solely to the individual who paid Social Security taxes out of their earnings. However, it’s possible for your ex-spouse to become eligible to receive some of your Social Security benefits even if you have been divorced for many years. 

Likewise, you could be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits under your ex-spouse’s account during retirement planning. As a result, it’s critical to understand your rights.

How divorce affects Social Security in New Jersey

A New Jersey family court judge doesn’t have jurisdiction over Social Security benefits. The benefits aren’t subject to legal process, including garnishment, levy, attachment, or execution. Therefore, Social Security retirement benefits aren’t considered marital property or subject to equitable distribution. 

Instead, the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides whether you can receive Social Security payments under your spouse’s record.

Divorce affects Social Security benefits because it defines the duration of your marriage, which is a key factor the SSA uses to determine whether an individual is eligible to receive monthly payments under their ex-spouse’s earning record.

Social Security benefits during a New Jersey divorce

Because the amount you receive in Social Security is based on your lifetime earnings, it probably makes up a significant portion of your retirement income. 

But a spouse who spent most of the marriage doing the work of taking care of the home and family may not be eligible for a large Social Security payment—and a spousal benefit could be the only means of retirement income they have after a divorce.

As a divorced spouse, you can apply for benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record if all of the following requirements are met:

You can receive benefits even if your ex-spouse has remarried. Likewise, your ex-spouse doesn’t need to apply for retirement benefits for you to receive benefits as a former spouse. If your divorce occurred over two years ago, you may apply for SSA benefits when your ex-spouse becomes eligible.

It’s important to remember that because earning restrictions apply to the benefits an ex-spouse receives, individuals should consider all sources of income when determining whether to apply for Social Security benefits.

Additionally, special rules apply based on your birth date. If you were born before January 2, 1954, and you are at full retirement age, you can receive a benefit based on your ex-spouse’s work record and defer your retirement benefit. However, if you were born after January 2, 1954, you don’t have the option to take only one benefit. If you apply for Social Security retirement benefits, you effectively apply for all retirement or spousal benefits you are entitled to receive.

Does my ex-spouse’s filing impact my Social Security benefits under my work history?

If your ex-spouse applies for Social Security benefits under your work history, you don’t need to worry about your benefits. Your ex-spouse’s benefits under your account don’t impact the benefits you or your current spouse can receive. 

In other words, the money the SSA pays your ex-spouse doesn’t decrease the monthly benefits you receive. In addition, if you remarry, your current spouse is eligible for spousal benefits provided they meet the requirements.

Furthermore, a divorced spouse could be entitled to survivor benefits. If you die and your ex-spouse is unmarried or remarries after turning 60 years old, they could be eligible for survivor benefits based on your work record. Your ex-spouse’s benefit would not impact your current spouse’s benefit.

Dividing Social Security benefits after divorce

When you divorce in New Jersey, your pensions and retirement accounts can be included in marital property, meaning that the funds in the accounts are subject to equitable distribution. Spouses can enter a divorce settlement that divides retirement accounts, or the court can decide for them based on the New Jersey Alimony Bill.

However, this does not include Social Security benefits. There is no procedure for dividing Social Security benefits during or after a divorce in New Jersey. The Social Security Administration addresses eligibility when an individual applies for retirement benefits based on their ex-spouse’s work history.

Even though judges cannot order spouses to divide Social Security benefits after divorce, the judge can consider the parties’ Social Security benefits for equitable distribution. A judge might consider how much an ex-spouse can receive in Social Security benefits when dividing 401(k) accounts, IRAs, and other retirement accounts.

Consult with an attorney

Understanding your Social Security rights and entitlements as a divorced spouse isn’t just a matter of financial security. It’s about empowerment and knowing that you have options and resources available to you. It’s about realizing that even in the midst of a significant life change like divorce, there are systems in place to ensure that you’re taken care of.

So, yes, a divorced spouse can collect Social Security from their spouse in NJ, provided that certain conditions are met.

But remember: every situation is unique, and what applies to one person may not apply to another. Always seek professional advice when dealing with matters as important as your financial future.

At Dughi, Hewit, and Domalewski, we’re here to help you understand your options and prepare for a new beginning. Contact us today for a consultation.

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