Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Social Security and Divorce

big error, I blame the SSA - repeated language on their site about "benefits based on" without pointing out the "one half" part See in bold:

I'm not sure there's anything precisely wrong with Professor B's post here, but whether she meant to or not I think it implies some things about our wonderful Social Security program which aren't quite true.

Now, I've looked at the little forms the government sends out telling us what our social security expectations are. And mine are, basically, jack shit--because I spent most of my adulthood to date in school, earning at most about $10K/year. Mr. B., who supported me through all that education? He's gonna get plenty of money from social security (assuming it's still around, of course). This is one of the reasons why, when we started IRAs, we started mine first, and contributed more money to it. Then, of course, we cashed them in to buy the house, so I'm back with jack shit for retirement money. One of the reasons I'm working now, and he's not, is because I'm well aware of what that means.

And what about divorce? No one gets married wanting to divorce, and very few of us have kids thinking that we won't be together forever, so saying "we're never going to divorce" doesn't count. The fact is, about half of marriages split up. And if you are so unlucky that some unforseen circumstance down the road means that that's you, and you've been staying at home raising kids, the court is *not* going to consider that "his" income was half yours. The paychecks have his name on them, they're "his" money, and if you're lucky you'll get some kind of "child support," and that is it. And you and the kids will be fucked.

If you were married for ten years or more, and you get a divorce, upon reaching retirement age you are entitled to the one half the level of retirement benefits that your former spouse is entitled to if your former spouse is alive and full benefits if he/she is dead as long as you didn't remarry before age 60. If you were married for ten years or more, and you get a divorce, and your former spouse subsequently dies, your dependent-aged children are entitled to significant benefits, as are you pre-retirement as long as you have dependent-aged children and haven't remarried.

Not disagreeing with the general thrust of the post -- that women who abandon careers to stay home with children do, for a variety of reasons, put themselves at serious financial risk. But, Social Security is fairly generous to spouses, though not as generous as I thought, even if they're divorced.