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Divorce Decree

Social Security: Understanding Spousal Benefits – Divorced Spouses

Understanding Social Security divorced spouse benefits is important for all ex-spouses so that they can be sure to receive all of the Social Security benefits for which they may be entitled. This article focuses on ex-spouse benefits.

In order for you to be eligible for divorced spouse benefits, your marriage must have lasted for at least ten years. If you divorce after fewer than ten years of marriage, no divorced spouse benefits are payable to either you or your ex-spouse. Additionally, you must be divorced for at least two years before divorced spouse benefits are payable. The two-year wait does not apply when you or your ex-spouse is already claiming a Social Security benefit based on your own work record.

Assuming a full retirement age (FRA) of 66, at age 62 a divorced spouse can claim 35% of the former spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). An individual’s PIA is the amount he or she is eligible to receive at their FRA. If a divorced spouse waits until FRA to apply, the divorced spouse benefit is 50% of the former spouse’s PIA. There is no benefit to waiting beyond FRA to claim divorced spouse benefits, as these benefits do not earn delayed retirement credits of 8% per year. Only an individual’s work record benefit earns delayed retirement credits.

A key difference with divorced spouse benefit eligibility is that divorced spouses do not have to wait for their former spouse to file for benefits on his or her own work record before they are eligible for divorced spouse benefits. As long as both ex-spouses are at least age 62, the marriage lasted for at least ten years, and they have been divorced for two years, divorced spouses are eligible for benefits from their former spouse’s work record.

Remarriage disqualifies you from collecting divorced spouse benefits. If this next marriage ends in divorce, but did not last ten years, you can claim benefits from the former spouse of the marriage that did last at least 10 years. If both marriages lasted ten years, you should file for divorced spouse benefits on the work record of the former spouse that had the highest earnings. Your former spouse remarrying has no impact on your ability to claim divorced spouse benefits.

If you remarry after age 60 and your former spouse passes away, you are no longer eligible for divorced spouse benefits. However, you are still eligible for surviving spouse benefits.

As with married couples, Social Security’s “deeming provision” must be considered. This provision states that any time you apply for a benefit prior to your FRA, you are applying for both your own work record benefit (if you have one) and a divorced spouse benefit based on your former spouse’s work record. Social Security will look at both benefits and pay you only the larger of the two.

Divorced spouses born prior to January 2, 1954, have options for claiming divorced spouse benefits that other spouses born later do not have. For these ex-spouses, the “deeming provision” ends at FRA. This means once they reach FRA and their former spouse is at least age 62, they can file a “restricted application” for only divorced spouse benefits. This allows the individual’s work record benefit to earn valuable delayed retirement credits until age 70 while he or she collects divorced spouse benefits from FRA until age 70.

For individuals born on or after January 2, 1954, the “deeming provision” extends beyond FRA. Accordingly, anytime they apply for benefits, they are applying for both benefits simultaneously, and Social Security will only pay the larger of the two.

There are many misconceptions surrounding divorced spouse Social Security benefits. It is important you understand how they work so that you can receive all of the benefits for which you may be eligible.

Stifel does not provide legal or tax advice. You should consult with your legal and tax advisors regarding your particular situation.