California residents who are divorced or facing a divorce should know some basic facts about Social Security retirement benefits. To qualify for benefits, an individual must have roughly a 10-year work history where Social Security taxes were paid into the fund. When a divorced or soon-to-be divorced person does not qualify under that standard, all may not be lost. There may be a way to obtain benefits on the Social Security account of the former spouse after the divorce, and this is done without interfering with the usual amount the other spouse collects.
It is also important to know that where one's benefits would be lower than the spouse, it may also be possible to collect higher benefits based on the higher earnings record of the former spouse. The rules for collecting a higher amount, or for qualifying to collect in the first place, are initially based on the mandate that the marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years. The applicant must also be unmarried and age 62 or older.
The applicant must be receiving less than he or she would collect based on the former spouse's work record. Therefore, a divorced person who is 62 or older may apply for and collect benefits based on the higher-earnings work record of the former spouse. Remember, however, that this enhancement does not apply if the marriage did not last for at least 10 years. This valuable benefit to a divorced individual is available even if the former spouse has remarried.
The divorced spouse who is qualified to collect Social Security retirement benefits in California will first get a payment in the regular amount that he or she normally collects. That amount will then be supplemented by the extra amount necessary to collect the benefits amount of the higher-earning spouse. The foregoing is only an introductory primer on a very complex set of government rules that apply after divorce. If one has any difficulty in interpreting the regulations or in understanding what is proposed by the Social Security Administration, it is best to seek the professional services of an attorney experienced in this area of the law.