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Social Security and divorce

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Posted at 6:31 AM, May 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-06 06:31:12-04

Did you know that you could file for Social Security benefits based on your spouse’s work record instead of your own? If so, did you know that you are still eligible for those spousal benefits even in case of divorce?

You can indeed file for benefits on your ex-spouse’s work record after a divorce, assuming that you meet some basic requirements.

Marriage Length — To qualify for an ex-spouse’s benefits, you must have been married to that spouse for at least ten years. (It doesn’t count if it just seemed like ten years.)

Marital Status — You must be single when you file. If you have remarried, you are not eligible – unless that marriage also ended, in which case you have a choice of ex-spousal benefits to file for. (Sorry, you cannot file for both.) It does not matter whether your spouse has remarried or not, nor does your filing for benefits affect what your spouse can receive.

Another exception is if your ex-spouse is deceased and you have re-married, if your remarriage took place when you were age 60 or greater. If your ex-spouse is deceased, you are eligible for survivor’s benefits, which are the full 100 percent of his or her benefits.

If you are already receiving ex-spouse benefits, they will stop when you remarry.

Your Age — You must be at least 62 years old to file, and your benefits will be reduced if you file before your full retirement age (FRA), which is 66 if you were born from 1943 to 1954 and 67 if you were born later. Benefits will be reduced by around 7-8 percent for each year claimed before your FRA. Keep in mind that spousal benefits are a maximum of 50 percent of your ex-spouse’s benefits.

Your Ex-Spouse’s Age — You cannot file against your ex-spouse’s benefits if he or she is below age 62. You can file if he or she is between the age of 62 and the FRA, but the reductions are the same as if you were below your FRA – 7-8 percent for each year deducted from the 50 percent spousal benefits.

If you file for benefits before you reach your FRA, from that point forward, you will receive the higher of the two benefits between the spousal benefits or the benefits from your own work record. However, if you have reached your FRA, you can choose to receive the lesser spousal benefits from your ex-spouse and delay filing for your own benefits until up to age 70. Delaying your own benefits racks up delayed retirement credits that increase your benefits by 8 percent annually. If you can live on the lesser spousal benefits for a few years, you will benefit from a significantly higher payout when you do file on your own record.

For many people, it is a simple cost-benefit calculation to figure out which benefits are higher. However, it is possible to have other complicating factors. For example, if your ex-spouse has not filed for his or her own benefits, you can still file for spousal benefits as long as you have been divorced for at least two years.

There are other exceptions and rules if you are disabled or if you are caring for a disabled child that is your ex-spouse’s child, whether natural or adopted. Check with your local Social Security office to verify the options available to you.

Do not just assume you are no longer eligible for spousal benefits from an ex-spouse. It may not work to your benefit to claim them, but you may be costing yourself money by not investigating your options fully.

RELATED LINKS

Social Security 101

How to Read Your Social Security Statement

File and Suspend Strategy can Increase your Benefits