Individuals in California whose spouses have paid into Social Security may be entitled to collect benefits based on those earnings, even if they are divorced. However, in order to collect these benefits, the individual must meet several important requirements, including how long the couple was married and how much he or she currently earns. The younger the individual and the higher his or her earnings, the less likely it is that a Social Security benefit will pay in the short term.
In a divorce involving significant assets, it is not unusual for both spouses to have good incomes. If one spouse is significantly younger than the other, this may create an interesting issue when they divorce and the younger spouse attempts to claim Social Security benefits.
Under the law, anyone who had been married for at least 10 years can collect a Social Security benefit under the ex-spouse's earnings as long as the individual does not remarry. However, anyone who files for a benefit before the full retirement age of 66 will be required to meet the earnings test to determine the amount of this benefit. If a 62-year-old woman, for example, is earning more than $100,000 per year, she will repay more than half of her ex-husband's benefit to Social Security if she files a claim at that point. It may be better to wait until she retires herself to file her claim in order to maximize the amount of her benefit. On the other hand, it may pay to file early if she will collect more over the life of her claim.
Dividing marital assets, particularly in the case of a high asset divorce action, can be very complicated. There can be repercussions affecting retirement, health care insurance, life insurance, estate planning and a host of other financial issues. An attorney with experience in these types of divorce actions may be able to help.