Collecting on Your Former Spouse’s Social Security

Nearing retirement age? If you were married for at least 10 years before getting a divorce, you may be entitled to a portion of your former spouse’s social security benefits.

At most, your benefit will be 50% of what your ex-spouse would receive at their full retirement age, if this amount is larger than what you could receive based on your own work record, according to rules set forth by the Social Security Administration. This is true regardless of gender, meaning a man can collect against his former wife’s earnings record if she collected a higher salary over their working lives.

In addition to the required 10 years of marriage, there are four key SSA qualifications that must be met before collecting divorced spouse benefits:
– The person seeking to collect must not be remarried.
– This person must be 62 or older.
– The benefit this person would collect based on his or her own earnings record must be smaller than what they would collect on their former spouse’s earnings history.
– The former spouse must be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits on their own.

Interestingly, benefits collected by a divorced spouse will not reduce the benefits received by the other, higher-earning spouse. In fact, numerous ex-spouses may be entitled to receive benefits from a single former spouse’s record, if each couple was married for at least ten years.

What happens in the event your former spouse is deceased? Again, if you meet certain requirements, you may still be able to file a claim. In the circumstance of a deceased higher earning ex-spouse, the SSA lays out the following guidelines:

– If you remarry after age 60 and your ex-spouse is deceased, you may still be eligible for a benefit under their record.
– If your ex-spouse is deceased, you may apply for benefits based on their record at age 60.
– The only exception to the 10 year length-of-marriage rule occurs if your ex-spouse is deceased, and you are caring for a disabled child, or child under the age of 16, who is also a child of theirs, who is receiving social security benefits based on their record.

If you are nearing or at retirement when you divorce (often referred to as a “gray divorce”), your divorce lawyer can offer advice on how to move forward with a claim, and how this might affect related issues, such as alimony payments, since any money received as a Social Security benefit counts as income.

The bottom line: As you move forward during your divorce to shore up all financial resources for your retirement years, think about exploring all your options, including Social Security.