Whether you are currently divorced or you are going through a divorce, it is important to understand how social security benefits are impacted by the dissolution of your marriage.
Do You Qualify for Benefits as a Divorced Spouse?
In order to qualify for social security benefits based on your former spouse’s record, there are four criteria that must be met:
You are divorced.
You are currently unmarried. It doesn’t matter if your ex-spouse is remarried or not. Furthermore, if you had remarried after your divorce and your subsequent marriage ended because of death, divorce or annulment and you are not married now, this qualification would be met.
Your marriage lasted 10 years or longer;
You are at least 62 years old.
If your former spouse has not yet applied for benefits but is eligible for them (at least age 62), you, as the former spouse, can still apply for benefits so long as you have been divorced for at least 2 years.
How is the Benefit Amount Calculated?
The amount of benefits that you are entitled to would at most be equal to 50% of what your former spouse would get at their Full Retirement Age. If you are collecting benefits prior to your former spouse having reached Full Retirement Age, the amount of the benefit that you are eligible for will be reduced. In order for you to collect under your former spouse’s record, the amount you would be eligible for under their record must be more than what you would be entitled to under your own record.
As a divorced spouse, if you have not reached Full Retirement Age but you are eligible for benefits under your own record, that amount will be paid first and then adjusted upward (if appropriate) to reflect what you would get under your former spouse’s record. In other words, you will get paid the higher for your own benefit and what you are eligible for under your former spouse’s record. For example, if at age 62 your own benefit amount is equal to $1,200 and your benefit under your former spouse’s record is $1,500, you will get paid your $1,200 benefit plus an additional $300 under your former spouse’s record for a total of $1,500 in benefits
If you claim benefits under your former spouse’s record, it will have absolutely NO impact on your former spouse’s benefits or the benefits of his or her new spouse, if remarriage has occurred. Furthermore, if your former spouse has been divorced multiple times, each ex-spouse who meets the four criteria listed above would be eligible for benefits under the former spouse’s record.
What About Survivor Benefits for Divorced Spouses?
The rules regarding social security benefits based on your former spouse’s record are somewhat modified if your former spouse is deceased.
Whereas you cannot be remarried to collect under your former spouse’s record if your former spouse is alive, if your former spouse is deceased, you can remarry after you reach age 60 and still get survivors benefits (100% of your former spouse’s benefit) based on your former spouse’s record.
Whereas you cannot apply for benefits until age 62 if your former spouse is alive, you can apply for survivor’s benefits as early as age 60 if your former spouse is deceased (age 50 if you are disabled).
If you are caring for a child under the age of 16 or a disabled child who is also a child of your deceased former spouse and the child is receiving benefits based on your former spouse’s record, you can receive survivor’s benefits on your former spouse’s record as well, even if you weren’t married for 10 years. Additionally, you can be any age to receive survivor’s benefits under this scenario.
What Other Planning Opportunities Should I Consider?
As a divorced spouse, it is important to understand your options regarding social security benefits so that you can maximize the benefits that receive under the system. If you are divorced and have reached Full Retirement Age, you can elect to receive a benefit based on your former spouse’s record and delay taking your own. By delaying yours, you can let your benefit grow until age 70. Once you reach age 70, you can then begin to take your own benefit.
If you are contemplating divorce and the marriage is close to having lasted 10 years, you may want to try and delay the divorce until that milestone is met. If you have been married for at least 10 years, one spouse can benefit from the other’s social security benefits without impacting the benefits either would be entitled to on their own.
If you are single now and have been married more than once and each marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can claim the highest benefit. You cannot add all of the benefits together.
In order to obtain benefits based on a former spouse’s record, you will need to know his or her social security number or his or her date and place of birth and his or her parent’s names.