Can I collect half of my ex’s social security after we divorce?
Yes – maybe. Here are the specific requirements:
If you were married for ten years or longer, you will be eligible to collect derivative Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record when you reach retirement age, assuming you are not married to someone else at the time.
The derivative benefits are equal to one-half the amount your former spouse is eligible to collect, based on his entire earnings over his entire career, including the years after your marriage was dissolved. You can’t double up: you’ll collect derivative benefits based on his earnings, or benefits based on your own earnings, but not both. You get whichever is higher. Don’t worry, you don’t have to make the computations. When you are ready to apply for benefits, just provide your ex-spouse’s social security number and proof that you were married for at least ten years, and they will compute what you are due. Your ex doesn’t have to approve – matter of fact, he won’t even be notified that you are collecting benefits based on his earnings.
There’s nothing that you need to put in your divorce decree to preserve your right to derivative benefits. The benefit is provided by federal law, which can’t be altered by provisions in your divorce agreement.
But wait! There’s more you need to know.
- Even if he remarries, you’ll still be entitled to derivative benefits. And guess what, his next ex-spouse will also be able to collect, as long as that marriage lasted 10 years. Mickey Rooney’s seven ex-wives didn’t collect, since none of the marriages lasted more than 10 years, but three of Johnny Carson’s marriages lasted over 10 years, so those ex-wives were entitled to benefits based on his earnings.
- You’ll be able to collect benefits when you are both of retirement age (62 for reduced benefits, 66-67 for full benefits). That’s true even if he is still working and isn’t collecting Social Security yet , as long as you and he have been divorced at least 2 years. (This rule is inexplicably more generous than the rule for still-married spouses, who have to wait until their husbands actually file for benefits.)
- If he dies, your derivative benefit ends. But all is not lost: after his death you will be entitled to survivor benefits based on your ex’s entire earnings history, not just 50% derivative benefits, even if he leaves an actual widow behind.
- If you are a government employee, your derivative Social Security benefits will be reduced by a portion of any government pension that you are receiving based on your own earnings. But if you receive a government pension because an ex-spouse worked for the government, it won’t impair your ability to collect Social Security.
As a nationally recognized expert on money, Ginita Wall is is the author of eight personal-finance books, including It’s More Than Money, It’s Your Life! The New Money Club for Women. Ginita lectures frequently and has appeared in numerous financial publications, websites, and television shows. A San Diego CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CDS, and CFP® practitioner specializing in divorce, she’s the co-founder of the Women’s Institute for Financial Education (www.WIFE.org). She can be reached at (858) 792-0524. View her website online.