July 24, 2016

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Divorced? Some basic Social Security facts to remember

Social Security

About half of all first-time marriages in this country will end in divorce. If you are divorced, you should know how a divorce affects your Social Security entitlement.

Here is a quick overview of Social Security rules concerning divorced spouse’s and widow or widower’s benefits:

o If you are divorced, you potentially are eligible for benefits on your ex-spouse’s Social Security record if you were married at least 10 years and if you are not currently married (or if you are a widow or widower and remarried after the age of 60). It does not matter if your former spouse has remarried. You generally will qualify for benefits based on your former spouse’s earnings record only if those benefits would be more than you are due based on your own earnings record.

o If your former spouse is still living, you may be due spouse’s benefits based on his/her earnings record if: 1) you are 62 or older; and 2) your former spouse is at least 62 and eligible for Social Security. Your former spouse does not have to be receiving benefits, only eligible to receive them. Depending on your age, you would be eligible for an amount between one-third and one-half of your former spouse’s retirement benefits, if that amount is more than you are due based on your own earnings.

o If you are a divorced widow or widower, you are due between 70 and 100 percent of your ex’s benefits, depending on how old you are when you start collecting benefits. Age 60 is the earliest age a widow or widower can be eligible.

o Social Security’s policies for spousal and survivors benefits are gender neutral. However, it may interest you to know the majority of working women are eligible for larger benefit payments based on their own Social Security earnings record, while their husbands or ex-husbands are still living. Many of those women switch to a higher widow’s rate when their husbands or ex-husbands die.

For information, read “Social Security: What Every Woman Should Know” and “Retirement Benefits,” available online at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10127.html. Or, request a copy by calling 800-772-1213. To contact Social Security, call 866-613-2774.

Fenn is a Social Security public affairs specialist.