All Americans can't necessarily live on Social Security benefits alone in their retirement years. However, we still count on them to be there as a safety net and adjunct to our retirement savings. The average monthly Social Security retirement benefit this year is estimated to be $1,360.

Not only do married people receive benefits based on their own work history, but they can get spousal benefits based on their husband's or wife's work record. With people increasingly divorcing in their pre-retirement and even retirement years, an important consideration in the proceedings is not just the division of your retirement accounts, but how the divorce will impact your Social Security benefits.

Qualifying for Spousal Benefits After Divorce

There are some essential things to keep in mind to help ensure that you're still able to receive spousal benefits after a divorce. Once your ex-spouse hits the full retirement age (66 or 67, depending on birth date), you can receive spousal benefits as long as: 1) you are at least 62; 2) you were married for at least ten years; 3) you are not married and 4) you have been divorced for at least two years if your spouse hasn't claimed his or her own benefits yet.

If you haven't reached your full retirement age and wish to continue to work, you can claim spousal benefits (assuming that you qualify based on the criteria). However, you may have to pay some of it back depending on your own income.

Your ex-spouse can also claim spousal benefits based on your work record. However, that doesn't lessen your own Social Security benefits.

Experienced Guidance Is Essential

As with most federal programs, Social Security can be complicated. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration has a detailed website with a considerable amount of information. If you're going through a divorce, however, it's wise to seek experienced financial and tax guidance to help you maximize the Social Security benefits to which you're entitled, whether based on earnings or disability. If you don't have your own financial and tax professionals, your family law attorney can likely recommend some in your area.