Marriage, Divorce, Taxes, and Your Social Security Number

In preparation for upcoming nuptials, we can often get so preoccupied with our wedding plans that taxes and Social Security numbers are the furthest things from our minds. 

Alternately, the same can be said if the marriage doesn't work out and we're thinking of getting divorced. However, the name and Social Security number we use to file taxes are essential to getting filings correct. So, when they change, so must our filings.

This is a quick introduction to marriage, divorce, taxes, and your Social Security number. It includes how to change your name to ensure you're filing correctly.

How Your Name Affects Your Tax Filings

There can be benefits from filing a joint tax return with your new spouse. At the same time, you may not want to split your tax return with your new ex. Newlyweds and those recently divorced should make sure that the names on their tax returns match those registered with the Social Security Administration (SSA). A mismatch between a name on the tax return and a Social Security number (SSN) could unexpectedly increase a tax bill or reduce the size of any refund.

For many newly married people, the tax scenario begins when they are married. It's often the case that one person, upon marrying their spouse, takes their spouse's surname. But what happens if they don't inform the SSA of the name change? Perhaps, the couple files a joint tax return with the new name that they now share.

As a result of not informing the SSA of the name change, the IRS will not be able to match the new name with the correct Social Security number. In a similar way, post-divorce, a person who changed their last name after marriage to that of their ex-spouse, informed the SSA of the name change. As a result, the SSA will be able to match the person with the correct SSN. Under such circumstances, however, they should also contact the SSA if they reassume a previous name.

How To Change Your Name

Whether you're changing your name after marriage or after divorce, it's easy to inform the SSA of a name change once you've received your marriage license or divorce decree. To inform the SSA, you will complete Form SS-5 at a local SSA office. It usually takes two weeks to have the change verified. The form is available on the agency's Web site, by calling toll-free 1-800-772-1213, and visiting local offices.

Taxpayers are required to provide SSNs for each dependent they claim on any tax return. If a person's children are adopted and do not have an SSN, a parent or the parents must apply for an adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN). This identification number may be obtained by filing Form W-7A. This form must be filed with the IRS. The ATIN should be used in the absence of an SSN. It should be used on any tax return. The form can be downloaded here. It also can be obtained by calling the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) toll-free at 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

Survivor Benefits for Divorced Spouses

The following resources will help you navigate the various agencies and processes for changing your name. There also are resources for other related matters and informing the IRS or Social Security Administration about the changes.

As covered in Social Security Benefits After Divorce, the following are qualifications for the Social Security benefits of a deceased ex-spouse:

  • Your marriage lasted at least ten years
  • You're at least 60 years of age
  • You are disabled and at least 50 years of age
  • If you remarry again before the age of 60
  • If your deceased former spouse died and contributed sufficiently to Social Security before their death. You can learn more about what qualifies as a sufficient contribution at
  • Divorced spouses, under these types of benefits, qualify for their deceased ex-spouse's benefits under some circumstances. It's important to remember this, as it might not be intuitive
  • You will need to provide a copy of your decree of divorce if and when you pursue your deceased ex-spouse's benefits

Keep all these requirements for eligibility in mind as you consider this option.

Retirement Benefits and Spousal Benefits

According to the Social Security Administration, spousal benefits can amount to as much as half a worker's primary insurance amount. Of course, the worker must have applied for or be applying for retirement benefits. The spouse in question must also be the current spouse of the applicant.

Keep in mind that if your retiring spouse applies for these benefits before normal (or full) retirement age, the spousal benefits associated with the retirement benefits will be reduced.

You can learn more about these age thresholds by visiting It's important to be aware of the full retirement age under relevant laws. It is 65 under nearly every set of circumstances. But certain exceptions and exemptions may still apply. For example, if you are the caretaker of a qualifying child, these benefits will not be reduced. Child care is always a factor in these kinds of determinations.

Social Security Benefits and Child Support

Under Section 459 of the Social Security Act, your benefits can be curtailed to compel you to pay child support. They can also be withheld to force you to pay alimony or other forms of restitution. The SSA provides more information about the garnishment of social security benefits.

Social Security Benefits and Your Income Tax Return

It's important to know where and how you report your social security benefits. On line 6b of Form 1040, you are able to do so. You are also able to do so on line 6b of Form 1040-SR.

According to the Social Security Administration, your benefits may be subject to tax if the following are greater than the base amount associated with your filing status:

  1. One-half of your total benefits; and
  2. The total amount of all your other income, which includes any interest exempt from taxes

Married Couples and Social Security Benefits

Both spouses in a married couple may collect social security benefits at the same time. The amounts you can collect are determined as a factor of what you've historically declared on your joint returns and whatever is reflected in your returns prior to your marriage. This should be factored into any retirement plans you and your spouse are making.

It should also be kept in mind in anticipation of the possibility of your spouse dying. It's always important to keep your own records, including tax returns and any other documents related to financial planning.

Social Security Credits and Tax Credits

The SSA requires that you earn at least 40 Social Security credits before you can qualify for benefits. You earn these credits as you work throughout your life and as you pay taxes for social security. Keep in mind that the amount of benefits is not affected by the number of tax credits you receive. The benefit amounts are also not affected by the size of your tax refunds from any tax year. At the same time, it is never affected by the value of any real estate you own. In addition, it is also not affected by whether you're head of household.

Learn More About Marriage, Divorce, and Taxes: Call an Attorney

There are many legal considerations when navigating marriage and divorce. Taxes, tax filings, and your Social Security number are some of the more important factors to consider. Much of the confusion comes when there's a disconnect between the individual and their social security number or other information. Consulting with an experienced local divorce attorney can help you understand the process and better protect your rights. You should also contact or visit your local social security office if you have any questions or concerns.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You may not need an attorney for a simple divorce with uncontested issues
  • Legal advice is critical to protect your interests in a contested divorce
  • Divorce lawyers can help secure fair custody/visitation, support, and property division

An attorney is a skilled advocate during negotiations and court proceedings. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

Find a local attorney

Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Divorce is an ideal time to review your beneficiary designations on life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. You need to change your estate planning forms to reflect any new choices about your personal representative and beneficiaries. You can change your power of attorney if you named your ex-spouse as your agent. Also, change your health care directive to remove them from making your health care decisions.

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