Social Security Benefits and the 10-Year Rule

Norris Family Law

As you probably know, “spousal benefits” are an important part of Social Security payments.  When a person is entitled to begin receiving Social Security, his or her spouse may also qualify for payments on account of the earnings of the primary Social Security recipient.  This is important when one spouse has accrued benefits because of his/her earnings, while the other spouse (typically the homemaker spouse) has not worked or has accrued only minimal benefits based on his or her own earnings. 

The rules for determining the date on which a spouse may begin receiving derivative benefits (i.e., those derived on account of the other spouse’s earnings history), and in what amount, are complex.  However, for spouses who are divorced, or are contemplating divorce, the important fact to be aware of is the ten-year rule.  This says that a spouse is entitled to derivative benefits if she or he was married to the earning spouse for a total of ten years; that is, ten years between the date the parties married, and the date their judgment terminating their marital status was entered.  A common misconception is that it is ten years between the day the parties marry and the day they separate; that is not correct.  So if, for example, parties separate 9 years and two months into their marriage, they should consider holding off entering their divorce judgment terminating marital status until another ten months have passed.  Otherwise any derivative Social Security benefits that would otherwise be available will be lost.

Here are some useful online sites that provide good information about Social Security benefit rights of spouses, former spouses, and surviving spouses:  (“Retirement Benefits”, publication #01-10035)  (“What Every Woman Should Know”, publication #05-10127)   (“Survivors Benefits”, publication #05-10084)

(The above publications can also be ordered directly from the Social Security Administration.)

Kids’ Turn

We recommend highly an organization called Kids’ Turn, which offers programs in a number of locations in the Bay Area.  Its programs are designed to help children whose families are undergoing reorganization due to separation, divorce, or remarriage, and includes parents who never married as well as those who never lived together.  The groups and workshops offer education and support, not therapy.

Here are some of the workshops that Kids’ Turn offers:

Parent-Child Workshops:  For parents and their children, ages 4-17.  This workshop requires a six week commitment, usually on a week-day evening or a Saturday morning.  At least one parent must register, although both parents are encouraged to attend.  Children enroll in age-appropriate groups, and there are two parent groups enabling separating parents to participate in different settings.

Grandparent Workshops:  For grandparents who want to support their grandchildren during parental separation.  This is also offered for grandparents of grandchildren whose parents never married or never lived together. 

Next Steps Workshop:  A four-week workshop designed to help families transitioning into step-family configuration.  Parents, children, step-parents, step-siblings, and new partners of parents are encouraged to attend to learn tools to enhance communication, and strengthen relationships within the stepfamily.

Early Years Workshop (parents only):  For parents of very young children, ages 0-5.  The curriculum is designed to help parents understand the impact of family reorganization on their young children, especially at a time when children developmentally need to attach to their family members.  It teaches parents skills for promoting healthy development through cooperative parenting.

Non-Violent Family Skills Program:  Designed to help parents learn to manage their family lives with reduced violence, by helping parents understand the impact of a violent environment on children and to teach parents new parenting skills.

All of the parents’ and children’s workshops are led by qualified professionals with backgrounds in education or mental health. 

We at Norris Family Law strongly support Kids’ Turn; their programs have been immensely helpful to our clients and their children.

For more information contact

Tools to Help Kids Cope with Divorce

The youngest members of the family can sometimes be overlooked in the midst of the divorce transition. Often, they sense and understand far more than parents may realize. It can be challenging talking to preschoolers and young children about your divorce in a reassuring and comforting manner. Fortunately, there are some good resources available to help kids cope with divorce.

Kids’ Turn: ( is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children understand and cope with the confusing and often conflicting feelings that accompany divorce. Kids’ Turn offers six-week child-parent workshops for children ages 4-14 and their parents. The program is offered in various locations throughout the Bay Area, including San Mateo County. For more information, visit their website or call (800)392-9239.

Recommended Books for Young Children:

Two Homes by Claire Masurel

Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce by Cornelia Maude Spelman

The Un-Wedding by Babette Cole

Useful Resources

If you or someone you know would like to get information to help you navigate the family-law system, here are some sites that can provide useful information.

To see court forms and get general information, an online self-help website is

To access the California Family Code, go to: (once on this site, select “California Law” at the bottom of the first page, then select “Family Code” and “Search” on the next page)

For information about California Department of Child Support Services and how they can help enforce and collect child support orders, go to:

Get information about attorneys at the website for the California State Bar:

General help: and

To locate marriage records:

To get a credit report:

One of the best books about divorce in California, full of practical information and tips about everything from selecting an attorney to finalizing your divorce is: Divorce Handbook for California: How to dissolve your Marriage without Disaster, by Judge James W. Stewart, 5th edition, Impact Publishers, Inc.