Most people think that once a divorce settlement is signed, the financial connections between spouses – other than those which are stipulated in the divorce agreement – have ended. While in many cases that is often true, it’s not necessarily the last time an ex will be able to derive financial benefit from a former union. Under certain circumstances, after a divorce, you may still be entitled to receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work history.
Social Security Benefits Based on Your Ex-Spouse’s Work Record
This benefit is just like the one available to someone who’s been widowed or is still married. In fact, it’s possible that both you and your ex’s current spouse – or other former spouses in the case of those with multiple marriages – could be eligible to receive spousal benefits simultaneously. The benefits due to any of the parties are unaffected by anyone else’s claim. If filed at Full Retirement Age, a divorced spouse is entitled to a benefit equal to 50% of his or her ex-spouse’s full retirement amount. If your ex should die first, you might be eligible to receive the entire benefit based on the value of his/her’s account at full retirement age.
Qualifying for Social Security Benefits Based on Your Ex-Spouse’s Work History
In order to qualify for benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record, the marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years. You must also be at least 62 years old and currently unmarried. If you re-married after the divorce, you can still apply for benefits based on your first spouse’s record, but only if your subsequent marriage ended in divorce, death, or annulment. Quite simply, you can’t apply for benefits while currently married to someone else.
However, if you did remarry and that marriage also met the terms described above, you would have the choice of claiming benefits from either spouse, depending on which benefit was worth more. It is important to keep in mind, though, that you can only claim spousal benefits for one marriage – no matter how many times you’ve been to the altar.
Obviously, in today’s economy, both marriage partners are likely to have careers and their own Social Security accounts. If that’s the case and you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own as well as from your divorced spouse, the Social Security Administration will pay the retirement benefit based on your employment history first. If the benefits from the ex-spouse were bigger, your monthly check will be increased so that the combination of benefits equals what you are due in spousal benefits.
Your Ex Doesn’t Have to be Receiving Benefits for You to Collect
Even more good news for divorced individuals is that if your ex-spouse is eligible for – but has not yet applied for – retirement benefits, you can still receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record if you have been divorced for at least two years.
However, if you can afford to, it may be best to reach Full Retirement Age (FRA) before making a claim. By filing before FRA, the amount of benefits you’ll receive based on your ex’s work record will be reduced by between 6.5% and 7.5% for each year before you hit that magic number. Furthermore, you will also be determined to have simultaneously filed for a reduced benefit on your own earnings record. Depending on how close to age 62 you file, that reduction over the course of your life could be significant.
One of the last things to keep in mind is that although Social Security was launched at a time when the “ideal” household consisted of a working father, a stay-at-home mom, and a brood of kids, the regulations are gender-neutral. Therefore, they apply as much to ex-husbands as they do to ex-wives, and to married couples of every description.