Before finalizing a divorce, Wisconsin residents should do their homework about how benefits are divided in an equitable distribution state. Though most marital assets must be split “fairly,” there are exceptions for things like Social Security benefits, which are only shared if a couple was married for at least 10 years.

Even for exes who were married for 10 years, there are other prerequisites before one person can receive SS benefits from the other’s work record. First, for someone to be entitled to an ex-spouse’s SS benefits, that person may not be married at the time of seeking benefits. Second, a divorce must be final for at least two years before one person may be entitled to the other’s benefits unless the other person has already begun withdrawing benefits from his or her own SS funds.

Individuals with no work record of their own will be entitled to receive up to half of the ex’s benefits. Individuals with their own benefits must withdraw their own benefits first. In one example, someone’s monthly benefits are $400, and the ex-spouse’s benefits are $1,000 per month. Assuming that the person with a lower benefits amount is entitled to 50% of the ex-spouse’s, that person must first withdraw $400 from his or her own fund before getting a supplemental SS divorce benefit of $100 to reach the full $500 they are entitled to.

Consistent with this calculation, individuals are not entitled to benefits from an ex-spouse if they have a greater monthly benefit than the ex-spouse. It’s not always predictable at the time of divorce whether one spouse is going to owe the other a portion of his or her SS benefits. With such uncertainty, it may be helpful for individuals to consult with a family law attorney when negotiating the division of assets and benefits with an ex-spouse.