Yes, you may be eligible for divorced spouse Social Security benefits if you meet certain criteria. Here is how it works.
As a divorced spouse, you may collect a Social Security retirement benefit on the earnings record of an ex-spouse if you are at least age 62, were married for a minimum of 10 years, are unmarried now and are not eligible for a higher benefit based on your own earnings.
In order to collect, your former spouse must also be at least 62 and eligible for Social Security benefits. Note, however, that your ex-spouse does not have to be receiving his Social Security benefits in order for you to collect your benefits, as long as you have been divorced for at least two years.
Even if your ex-spouse is married, it will not affect your right to divorcee benefits, nor will it affect your ex's retirement benefits or his current spouse's benefits.
Divorced spouses may receive up to 50% of their ex spouses' full Social Security benefits. This amount could be less than 50% if you choose to receive these benefits before reaching full retirement age, which is age 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954. To find out your full retirement age and see how much your benefits will be reduced by taking them early visit SSA.gov/planners/retire/retirechart.html.
Keep in mind that if you qualify for benefits based on your own work history, you will receive the larger of the two benefits. You cannot receive benefits on both your record and your ex's work record.
To find out how much your retirement benefits will be, view your Social Security statement at SSA.gov/myaccount. To get an estimate of your ex's benefits, call Social Security at 800-772-1213. Note, in order to receive accurate information, you will be asked to provide your ex-spouse's Social Security Number.
You also need to know, if your ex-spouse dies and you were married for 10 or more years, you become eligible for divorced survivor benefits. These benefits may be worth up to 100% of what your ex-spouse was entitled to receive.
Survivor's benefits are available to divorced spouses as early as age 60 (or age 50 if the surviving spouse is disabled). Be aware, if you remarry before age 60 then you become ineligible to receive survivor benefits unless the marriage ends. Remarrying after age 60 will not affect your eligibility.
Also, if you are receiving divorced spousal benefits when your ex-spouse dies, you will automatically be switched over to the higher paying survivor benefit.
If you are divorced and were born on or before January 1, 1954, you may be able to boost your benefits through a "switching strategy." If you worked and are eligible for Social Security benefits on your own earnings record, you can file a "restricted application" with Social Security at age 66 to collect a divorced spousal benefit. This benefit will be equal to half of what your ex receives. Then, once you reach age 70, you can elect to stop receiving the ex-spousal benefit and switch to your own benefit, which will be 32% higher than it would have been at your full retirement age.
Divorced widows (and widowers) also have switching options regardless of when they were born. If, for example, your ex-spouse passes away while you are collecting Social Security retirement benefits on your own record, you can switch to survivor's benefits if the payment is larger. Alternatively, if you are collecting survivor's benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefits if it offers a larger payment and you are eligible to start receiving retirement benefits.
For more information visit SSA.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html or call 800-772-1213.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.