Top 5 Social Security Questions After Divorce

social security

While you’ve likely heard the statistic that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, what you may not know is that one in four of those involves a couple that is age 50 or older.

Any divorce is difficult, but a “gray divorce” can cut your retirement plans in half. As a divorced spouse, it’s important to know your options for Social Security benefits.

Here are the top five questions that I have received on the subject of Social Security benefits for divorced spouses:

Am I entitled to Social Security benefits based on my ex’s earnings record?

Yes, as long as you were married for at least 10 years and each of you is at least 62 years old – even if your ex spouse has remarried.

What happens if I’m collecting Social Security benefits based on my ex, and I remarry?

Typically, you are no longer eligible to collect benefits on your former spouse’s record if you remarry. Should your later marriage end by death, divorce, or annulment, you may elect to receive your previous spouse’s benefits. However, if you are collecting Social Security benefits on your ex and you remarry someone who is also collecting Social Security benefits as a divorced or surviving spouse, you can both continue to collect your respective benefits.

Am I eligible to receive 50 percent of my ex spouse’s benefits if I’m collecting based on my own record?

Yes. In fact, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that 75 percent of divorced spouses didn’t know they could still collect part of their ex-spouse’s benefits. The benefit applies just as if you were still married. You would be able to collect half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement-age amount if you start collecting benefits at your full retirement age or later. Reduced spousal benefits are available as early as age 62. However, if you are already collecting your own benefit, you are also entitled to an excess spousal benefit equal to the difference between your benefit and 50 percent of your ex’s benefit. For example, if 50 percent of your ex spouse’s monthly benefit is $1000 and your full monthly benefit is $500, you are eligible for an additional $500 per month. Keep in mind, spousal benefits collected at 62 are worth just 35% of the worker’s primary insurance amount compared to 50 percent at age 66.

What happens if my ex-spouse dies?

Your survivor benefit is worth 100% of what your ex-spouse was receiving or was entitled to receive at time of death — even if he or she has remarried. Both you, as the divorced surviving spouse, as well as a surviving current spouse, are each eligible for the full benefit of the deceased worker’s amount assuming each survivor is at least full retirement age. Survivor benefits are available at a reduced amount as early as age 60.

If I’m receiving a pension from a public-sector job, can I collect a Social Security benefit on an ex-spouse who worked in the private sector?

If you receive a pension from employers that were exempt from paying FICA taxes, any potential spousal or survivor benefits as a divorced spouse could be reduced by the Government Pension Offset provision. This offset, which also affects public school teachers in some states, will reduce any potential Social Security benefit by two-thirds of the amount of your government pension. For example, should your pension be $1,500 per month, any Social Security benefit would be reduced by $1,000 per month. Therefore, if your potential spousal benefit is $1,100 per month, you would receive only $100 per month from Social Security.

If you find yourself going through a divorce later in life, your ability to understand your Social Security options is vital to your financial future after divorce. Also, be sure to view our FREE guide DIVORCE: Financial Mistakes To Avoid Before, During & After.

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