Social Security

How Divorce Can Affect Social Security Benefits

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by Alli Thomas

Apr 29, 2019

If you’re a divorcee nearing retirement age, you may be wondering how your Social Security benefits will be affected. In some instances, divorced spouses can collect additional benefits based on their ex-spouse’s record.

 

How do I know if I’m eligible?

There are three key points to remember when it comes to determining whether or not you’ll be able to collect these additional benefits:

 

  • Ten is the magic number. Your marriage to your ex must have lasted longer than ten years for you to be eligible to collect on their record.
  • You must be unmarried to be eligible to collect on your ex’s record. There is an exception if your ex-spouse is deceased, however. We’ll touch on this later.
  • The benefit you’d receive based on your ex’s record must exceed the benefit you’d get based on your own record.

 

How much will I receive if I am eligible to receive on my ex’s record?

If you’re eligible to receive benefits based on your ex’s record, you will receive between 32.5% to 50% of their benefit amount, depending on your age when you start taking benefits.

 

What if my ex went down the aisle again after our divorce?

It doesn’t matter if your ex is on spouse number two, six, or ten—you can still collect on their record no matter how many times they’ve said “I do” after your marriage ended. The catch is that you must not be married.

 

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I married twice and both marriages ended in divorce. What, if anything, am I entitled to receive on either of my exes’ records? 

If both marriages lasted at least ten years and the benefits you’d receive from either ex-spouse’s records exceed your own, you may claim whichever benefit is higher.

 

Will my benefit be reduced if my ex tries to claim on my record? 

No, your ex’s claim won’t decrease your benefit. It also works the other way around: if you claim on your ex’s record, that won’t reduce their benefit, either.

 

Do I have to wait until full retirement age to collect Social Security on my ex’s record?

No. If your ex is still alive, you can start collecting at age 62. However, if you were born after January 2, 1954, you have to start collecting your ex-spouse’s benefits at the same time as your benefits.

 

Retirees born before January 2, 1954 that have already reached full retirement age can choose to take only the divorced spouse’s benefit now and can wait until a later date to claim their own benefit to maximize their delayed retirement credit.

 

My ex-spouse is still working even though they are eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Can I still apply for benefits on their record?

Yes, as long as you meet all the other criteria already mentioned (age, marital status) and as long as your divorce was at least two years ago.

 

My ex died. What happens now?

If your ex is deceased, you may still be eligible to receive benefits on your ex’s record—and you can receive them as early as age 60 (or age 50 if you are disabled). These benefits are known as survivor benefits. You may even be eligible to collect on your deceased ex’s record even if you remarry as long as you do so AFTER you turn 60.

 

I’m still not sure what I’m eligible for. Can someone help?

Yes, a financial advisor can help you determine what Social Security benefits you may be eligible for and when may be the best time for you to start collecting based on your situation. Even more important, they can put together a comprehensive retirement plan helps you maximize your retirement income based on what your Social Security situation.

 

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Alli Thomas

Alli Thomas has worked in the financial services industry for nearly 20 years, with a focus on retirement-related investing. She began her career as a FINRA-licensed participant-services call-center associate at Vanguard, and then moved to Principal Financial Group, where she worked closely with employers, assisting with retirement plan set-up and design, selecting appropriate plan investment offerings, and maximizing employee participation through targeted education campaigns and enrollment meetings. Alli has also worked as a qualified 401(k) administrator and registered investment advisor for several small investment firms. She now writes about all things investment- and finance-related, leveraging her extensive experience and passion for retirement planning to help investors make well-informed financial decisions.

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