Many people don’t realize that they may be eligible for their ex’s social security benefits. If you are divorced, and were married for ten years or more, have been divorced for at least two years, and you and your ex are both at least 62 years old (the age of eligibility for partial social security benefits), then you are eligible to receive up to 50% of their full retirement benefit, if that amount is greater than the benefit that you would receive based on your own work history.
You are disqualified from receiving an ex’s benefits if you remarry, unless that marriage ends in divorce as well.
If you are eligible for your own retirement benefits, those will be paid first, but if your ex’s benefit is higher, that benefit can be combined with yours so as to equal the higher amount.
The benefits you receive based on your ex’s work history have no effect on the benefits your ex or your ex’s new family will receive.
None of this means that you can receive multiple social security benefits if you have been divorced more than once. However, it does mean that you can choose the highest benefit that you are eligible for, based on your former spouses’ work histories. (Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration cannot tell you this, so you’ll have to check with any ex-spouses to see who gets the best benefits.)
Social Security is set up in such a way that benefits become greater as you age. So your benefit at age 62 is less than your benefit at 66, and significantly less than if you wait until 70 to start collecting. This is true of ex-spouse benefits as well. The age of your ex is not the critical factor, though: it is your age that determines the amount of benefit that you are eligible to receive, and any reduction of benefits is based entirely on when you decide to start receiving the benefits. Your ex’s age only matters to the extent that they must be at least 62 years or older (that is, eligible for their own social security benefits) before you can claim your share. They do not need to have applied for or received those benefits—they just have to be eligible.
If you are at full retirement age (66, if you were born between 1943 and 1954, or 67 if you were born after 1960), you can apply for restricted benefits based on your ex spouse’s work history, regardless of if they are at full retirement age or not. This could benefit some, who can collect the ex-spouse’s benefits until they reach 70, then switch over to their own, higher benefits.
You cannot receive both benefits, but will receive the greater of the two amounts.
If your ex-spouse dies, you can still be eligible for divorced survivor benefits. You must be at least 60 to receive these. If your ex dies while you are already receiving divorce spousal benefits, you will automatically be switched over to the higher survivor benefit.
While you do not need a lawyer to apply for divorced spousal benefits from social security, there are likely other issues surrounding this that may require the assistance of an attorney. We are pleased to offer free consultations at offices in Blackwood/Turnersville or Marlton (or by phone) for anyone who has questions about their rights and responsibilities in divorce or retirement. Call us at 856-227-7888 or contact us at [email protected] to learn more.
The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.