If your ex-spouse had higher earnings than you and you meet all of the criteria, there may be an opportunity for you to increase your Social Security benefit. So you’re not in love anymore—or maybe you haven’t seen your ex in decades—you might be able to reap one last benefit from the marriage.
An Aitken (SC) Standard’s recent article asks, “What can you expect from your ex's Social Security?”
The article reminds us that benefits for a divorced person and the qualifications for those benefits, aren’t mentioned on your online Social Security statement. As a result, many of these benefits go unclaimed. Therefore, to obtain benefits based on your ex’s work record, your ex must qualify for Social Security benefits. There are these additional requirements:
- The marriage lasted at least 10 years;
- You’re 62 or older;
- You’re currently unmarried; and
- The benefit you’re entitled to receive based on your own work is less than your ex-spouse's.
If you remarry, you typically can’t collect benefits on your former spouse's record, unless your later marriage ends.
The benefits you can get as a divorced spouse are half the benefits he/she would receive at full retirement age. You can start collecting your ex's Social Security at 62. If you start at that age, you’ll permanently lower your benefits. That’s because you're not waiting to claim until your full retirement age, which for most current retirees is age 66. If your ex-spouse hasn’t applied for retirement benefits but can qualify—you can receive benefits on their record, if you’ve been divorced for at least two years.
Let’s say that you were born in 1955, and you opt to file at 62 for your ex-spouse's benefit. Your benefit will be 70% of the amount you’d otherwise be eligible for at your age 66. If you were born before January 2, 1954 and have already reached full retirement age, you have the option to receive only the divorced spouse benefit and you can delay receiving your retirement benefits until as late as age 70. But if you were born after January 2, 1954, that option is no longer available. Therefore, if you file for one benefit, you’ll be effectively filing for the greater of yours or that amount based on your ex’s record.
If you’ve yet to reach your full retirement age and continue to work while receiving benefits, your divorced spouse benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn above the annual limit. The 2017 limit is $16,920.
There is one last detail to consider. If you held a government job and your income was not subject to Social Security deductions while you were working, it is possible that any Social Security benefits based on your ex’s earnings history may be reduced.
Reference: Aitken (SC) Standard (May 20, 2017) “What can you expect from your ex's Social Security?”