If you are eligible for Social Security Benefits and are divorced, you may be entitled to receive benefits from your former spouse.
First, it is important to determine whether or not you are eligible to receive Social Security Benefits from your former spouse.
In order to receive benefits from your former spouse, s/he must be at least 62 years of age, with a minimum of 40 work credits, which is the equivalent of 10 years of full-time work. It makes no difference if s/he has actually claimed her/his benefits yet. As long as you are at least 62, you can start drawing benefits.
Second, consider if you should apply for your benefits now or wait until you are older.
If you are taking Social Security based upon your own earnings record, you receive an 8% delayed retirement credit for every year you hold off on delaying benefits past your full retirement age, until you are 70 years old. What is my full retirement age? Full retirement age is 66 for those persons born in 1954; and 67 for those persons born in 1960 or later – it varies depending on your birth year.
If you are taking Social Security based upon your former spouse’s earnings record, your benefits max out at your full retirement age, not that of your former spouse.
Whether you decide to claim on your record or your former spouse’s, be aware of the consequences of starting Social Security early. You can only qualify for 50% of your former spouse’s benefit if you wait until your full retirement age. If you start benefits at 62, your checks will only be 32.5% of your former spouse’s primary insurance amount.
Now that you have decided to apply for benefits, how do you determine whose benefits you will receive?
You do not get to choose between your benefit and your former spouse’s benefit. When you apply for Social Security, you will receive whichever amount is higher. Social Security will give you whatever you are eligible for based on your own earnings; if your former spouse’s earning history qualifies you for more benefits, then Social Security will use their record to give you the difference. Claiming benefits based upon your former spouse has no impact on her/his benefits whatsoever, and if s/he is remarried, it has no effect on her/his current spouse’s benefits either.
What if my Divorce Decree prohibits me from getting my former spouse’s Social Security Benefits?
The Social Security Administration does not care about the provisions in your Divorce Decree regarding this issue. According to the Social Security Administration, so long as your marriage lasted at least 10 years, those clauses are “worthless and never enforced.”
What if my former spouse will not agree to me receiving benefits?
Your former spouse does not need to agree to you receiving benefits from her/his earnings. There is no need for you to have your former spouse sign off or approve your benefits. Even more, Social Security will not contact your former spouse if you are using her/his earning record to qualify. You will need to provide a few basic details including your former spouse’s Social Security Number, name, date of birth, or her/his parents’ names.
What if I want to claim my former spouse’s benefits now, but later want to claim based upon my own earnings record?
There is a chance of this occurring, but only if you were born on or before January 2, 1954. If you fall into this category, you may be able to file a restricted application such that you can claim your former spouse’s benefits, and then switch over to your own higher benefit after you reach full retirement age. If you were born after January 2, 1954, you do not have the option of doing this as a result of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.
If you meet the eligibility requirements for taking your ex-spouse’s benefits, it’s certainly worth having Social Security calculate both benefits so you can get the maximum amount. You won’t affect your former spouse’s benefits, and you won’t even have to contact them.
If you have questions about Social Security and divorce, contact us – we can help.