Can You Receive Social Security Benefits Based on the Earnings of a Foreign Spouse?


For many people, Social Security is a significant retirement asset. This means that Social Security benefits must be taken into account when one is getting a divorce.

Divorced spouses can receive benefits based on their former spouse's earnings record if the marriage lasted 15 years or longer, they remain unmarried at age 62 or older, and the spousal benefit is greater than the benefit they'd be eligible to receive based on their own earning history. They can also receive benefits if they remarried, but the second marriage ended by divorce, death, or annulment. The spousal benefit does not affect the earner's benefit in any way.

But what about if you are divorcing a foreign spouse? If you are a legal United States citizen, you may still be eligible to receive spousal Social Security benefits. However, there are some restrictions. Your spouse needs to have 40 or more credits of covered earnings in the United States and be at least 62 years of age, unless he or she is from a country that has a totalization agreement with the United States, which would reduce the number of covered earnings credits required.

If your spouses does not have enough quarters of Social Security-covered employment, you will need to collect benefits based on your own record. In this case, your foreign spouse may be eligible to receive the divorced spouse benefit, again, if he or she meets the necessary eligibility criteria.

Aside from determining eligibility for Social Security benefits, divorcing a foreign spouse presents a number of other special challenges. For example, if you sponsored your spouse's immigration application and signed an Affidavit of Support, your obligation to support your foreign spouse does not automatically end with your divorce. To protect your rights, it's important to seek the assistance of a qualified attorney experienced in both divorce and immigration law.

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