By Jim Miller
As a divorced spouse, you can collect Social Security retirement benefits on the earnings record of your ex-husband or ex-wife, if your ex is at least age 62, was married to you at least 10 years, and you are not now married and not eligible for a higher benefit based on your own earnings record.
In order for you to collect, your ex must also be at least 62 and eligible for Social Security benefits. But your ex does not have to be receiving them for you to collect divorced spouse’s benefits, as long as you have been divorced at least two years.
Even if your ex is remarried, it won’t affect your right to divorcee benefits, nor will it affect your ex’s retirement benefits or his current spouse’s benefits.
A divorced spouse can receive up to 50 percent of their ex’s full Social Security benefit, or less if they take benefits before their full retirement age — which is 66 if you were born between 1943 and 1954. To find out your full retirement age and see how much your benefits will be reduced by taking them early see SSA.gov/planners/retire/retirechart.html.
Keep in mind though, that if you qualify for benefits based on your own work history, you’ll receive the larger of the two benefits. You cannot receive benefits on both your record, and your ex’s work record too.
To find out how much your retirement benefits will be, see your Social Security statement at SSA.gov/myaccount. And to get an estimate of your ex’s benefits, call Social Security at 800-772-1213. You’ll need his Social Security number to get it.
You also need to know that if your ex-spouse dies, and you were married for 10 or more years, you become eligible for divorced survivor benefits, which is worth up to 100 percent of what your ex-spouse was due.
Survivor’s benefits are available to divorced spouses as early as age 60 (50 if you’re disabled). But if you remarry before 60 you become ineligible unless the marriage ends. Remarrying after age 60 will not affect your eligibility.
Also note that if you are receiving divorced spouses’ benefits when your ex-spouse dies, you will automatically be switched over to the higher paying survivor benefit.
Being divorced also offers a switching strategy that can help boost your benefits if you were born on or before Jan. 1, 1954. Here’s how it works. If you worked and are eligible for benefits on your own earnings record, you could file a “restricted application” with Social Security at age 66 to collect a divorced spousal benefit, which is half of what your ex gets. Then, once you reach 70, you stop receiving the ex-spousal benefit and switch to your own benefit, which will be 32 percent higher than it would have been at your full retirement age.
Unfortunately, as a result of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, this option is not available if your birthday is Jan. 2, 1954 or later.
Divorced widows (and widowers) also have switching options regardless of your birthday. If, for example, you are currently collecting Social Security retirement benefits on your own record, and your ex-spouse dies, you can switch to survivor’s benefits if the payment is larger. Or, if you’re collecting survivor’s benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefits – between 62 and 70 – if it offers a larger payment.
For more information visit SSA.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html, or call 800-772-1213
Jim Miller is the author of Savvy Senior column, which is published every issue in In Good Health.