By Theresa Fry, Senior Vice President and Manager, IRAs, Retirement and Education Planning

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Many people find Social Security decisions confusing, but if you are or were previously divorced, understanding what your options are can be even more complicated.  When I talk with clients about Social Security collection strategies, there are two common questions I often hear regarding divorce and Social Security.  The first is always “Can I collect Social Security from my ex?” This is usually quickly followed by “What happens if my ex remarries/remarried?”

Can I Collect Social Security from My Ex?

Both spousal retirement benefits and survivor benefits are available to divorced spouses, but only under certain circumstances.  The general rules for collecting Social Security from an ex-spouse are:

  • Your marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years.
  • You must be unmarried.
  • The amount you can collect from your ex-spouse must be more than what you can collect on your own.

Retirement Benefits from an Ex-Spouse – In addition to the above requirements, both you and your ex-spouse must be at least age 62 to collect retirement benefits. Even though your ex-spouse must also be at least age 62 and entitled to benefits, he or she does not have to be receiving Social Security at the time you file for and receive spousal benefits, as long as you have been divorced for at least two years. The maximum you are entitled to receive at your full retirement age (FRA) is 50% of your ex-spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA).  PIA is the unreduced benefit amount that is available at FRA.

Survivor Benefits from a Deceased Ex-Spouse – If your ex-spouse is deceased, you must be at least age 60 (or age 50 if disabled) to collect survivor benefits.  The maximum amount you can receive at your FRA is 100% of your deceased ex-spouse’s PIA or the amount the deceased ex-spouse was receiving at the time of death.

With either spousal retirement or survivor benefits, the amount you receive may be lower than the maximum amount if:

  • You file for benefits early (before your FRA) – The early reduction penalty is based on your age at the time you collect Social Security. For example, if you have a FRA of 66 and you collect spousal retirement benefits at the earliest possible age of 62, a 30% reduction applies on the amount you would have been eligible for at FRA.
  • You are still working and you collect Social Security early – The Social Security earnings limit can reduce or eliminate your benefits depending on the amount of your income.

Keep in mind that delayed retirement credits of 8% per year that apply if you wait to collect your own retirement benefits after your FRA, do not apply to dependent Social Security benefits, such as the spousal retirement benefit and the survivor benefit.

What happens if my ex remarries? Will that keep me from collecting divorced spouse benefits?

Fortunately, if your ex-spouse remarries it will have no impact on your ability to receive a spousal or survivor benefit; however, if you remarry, it could.  When you remarry, you forfeit any spousal retirement benefit from your ex (although you may be able to collect benefits from your current spouse).  For survivor benefits, if you remarry before age 60, you also forfeit benefits.  If your second or subsequent marriage also ends, you may be able to requalify for benefits from the ex-spouse of your first marriage.  Social Security will not pay you benefits from multiple spouses at the same time, but you are able to choose the spouse or ex-spouse that would provide the highest benefit amount to you.

Benjamin F. Edwards can help you navigate through the sometimes complex and confusing Social Security rules.   If you would like additional information about Social Security or need assistance analyzing the claiming strategies you are entitled to, contact your Benjamin F. Edwards Financial Advisor.