Social Security And Your Ex

As many divorcees reach retirement age, one important thing to brush up is the rules pertaining to Social Security. In fact, even if your marriage ended in divorce, you may be able to receive benefits based on your ex’s earnings history.

If you’re unmarried now but were previously married 10 years or more, you’re entitled to a retirement income based on your ex’s Social Security benefits. The amount will vary, depending on the age you start drawing income. Visit the Social Security website to determine your full retirement age. At age 62 (earliest retirement age, unless a widowed ex-spouse) you can draw approximately 35 percent of your ex’s benefits. If you wait until age 66 (or 67 if you were born after 1959), you can draw about 50 percent. Again, it depends on the year you were born and what your full retirement age is.

If you remarried and your second spouse is deceased, you can receive benefits based on either husband/wife (Social Security is gender-neutral and based on work records), as long as each marriage lasted 10 years or more. You will receive the higher benefit amount from Social Security.

If your ex is deceased, you’re entitled to surviving divorced spouse benefits and can collect as early as age 60 or age 50 if you’re disabled. As a surviving divorced spouse, you’re entitled to the deceased ex-spouse’s full retirement benefit. If raising an ex’s child or children, you may qualify for benefits for their care until they reach age 16, then draw based on your ex-spouse’s records until the children are aged 18 or 19 if they are still in high school. Disabled older children can receive benefits longer.

If you’re drawing divorce spousal benefits and you remarry, any benefits based on your ex will stop. You will then need to be married at least one year before you can apply for spousal benefits based on the new spouse’s earnings record.

You can start receiving divorce spousal benefits whether or not your ex-spouse has applied or is drawing benefits as long as he or she is age 62 or older and you have been divorced at least two years or more. If you start drawing an income based on your former spouse’s retirement benefit, it does not affect his/her benefit amount or their current spouse if they have remarried.

The decision to start receiving Social Security at the earliest retirement age of 62 can be a difficult one, based on your individual financial situation. But another consideration might be the deeming rules that apply when determining whose benefits to draw on, beyond remaining unmarried and divorced for two years or more. When you apply for a divorced spousal benefit, Social Security ‘deems’ you to be filing for reduced retirement benefits based on your own records as well. They will then award and pay you the greater amount of the two.

This means if you draw reduced benefits based on your ex’s higher earnings records, when you reach full retirement age you cannot expect to switch and draw on your own records and receive full benefits. Your retirement benefit will be reduced for the remainder of your life. So, some things to consider might be: Do you need to begin collecting benefits at age 62? Or can you wait until you reach full retirement age? Is your health good? How long do you think you will live?

If you can wait until full retirement age, deeming no longer applies. At that time, you can collect your divorce spousal benefits and suspend your own for up to age 70. With delayed retirement credits, your benefit will rise a certain percentage per year plus inflation based on your date of birth, up to 8 percent. Any spousal benefit you are receiving will remain the same with the exception for inflation.

Basically, you need to do the math. It can be complicated and your local Social Security office can help. They can answer your questions, help you understand what your options are and project amounts based on you and your ex-spouse’s Social Security records. Don’t forget to take your marriage license, divorce decree, and a picture ID to the meeting. A qualified financial professional is also a plus when it comes to planning your retirement.

Finally, remember you’re entitled to receive the highest Social Security benefit, based on your own earning history or your ex-spouse’s, provided you meet the conditions. Not even an angry ex can stop you from collecting divorced spousal benefits if you qualify.