There can be good news a about divorce! Did you know that if your marriage lasted at least ten years, you can claim social security benefits on the entire earnings history of your ex-spouse?
Here are a few important qualifiers you need know:
- You must be unmarried. If you remarry, you cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record until your later marriage ends (whether by death, divorce or annulment).
- You must be 62 years old or older.
- Your ex-spouse must, him or herself, be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
- Your own personal social security benefit, based on your own work, must be less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.
It’s an either-or situation – you’ll get your own Social Security benefits, or one-half of your ex-spouses benefits (“derivative benefits”), whichever is greater. Of course, the amount of benefits you get has no effect on the amount of benefits your ex-spouse or their current spouse may receive. (Their benefits are not reduced because you get ½ of your ex-spouse’s benefits!)
How you ask? Below are a few answers to questions you may have:
1. How many ex-spouse’s can claim derivative benefits?
As many ex’s as there are, as long as each marriage lasted 10 years. Mickey Rooney’s seven ex-wives got left out since none of the marriages lasted more than 10 years, but three of Johnny Carson’s marriages lasted over 10 years and all his ex’s were eligible for benefits.
2. If my ex-spouse dies, do my derivative benefits end?
This has good news and bad news. The bad news: If he/she dies, the derivative benefit ends. The good news is that now you can collect survivor benefits, which are 100% of his benefits, not just 50%.
3. Can I receive both public employee benefits and social security?
Under the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), benefits received from a non-Social Security covered job (teacher or other civil service job) may cause Social Security benefits to be reduced by several hundred dollars. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) applies to derivative benefits, which will be reduced by 2/3 of the pension benefits received by an employee from a job not covered by social security. (This is where you really need to talk with a knowledgeable representative at the Social Security Administration.)
4. Can I receive benefits on my ex-spouse if he/she has not yet filed for benefits?
If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, you can receive benefits on his or her record if you have been divorced for at least two years.
As in any case where government benefits are involved, these rules are subject to change. So, when you are ready to claim social security benefits, be sure to let the Social Security Administration know that you were married for more than ten years, and be prepared to furnish your ex-spouse’s full name and social security number.
The Social Security Administration will be able to calculate what benefits will give you the highest monthly payment, and will recalculate those benefits if your ex-spouse dies while you are collecting benefits.
For more information visit the page “If You Are Divorced” at the Social Security Administration’s website.
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