By Andy Landis
If you’re confused about Social Security rules for divorced individuals, you’re not alone. Let’s clear up the muddle and discover some ways to work the rules to your advantage.
I’m divorced and don’t have a 10- year work history. Can I get Social Security?
Probably. You can get Social Security “former spouse payments” if the following requirements are met:
- You must be age 62 or over.
- Your former spouse must be at least 62, and have enough work to qualify for Social Security (but not necessarily getting payments, if you’ve been divorced for two years).
- Your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years before divorce.
- You must be currently unmarried (but you may have intervening marriages, now ended).
- If you are under full retirement age (FRA, currently 66), your spousal payment will be reduced and your current work must be limited.
Whew! That’s a lot of requirements. But if you qualify, you will receive monthly payments of 35% to 50% of your ex’s Social Security and you’ll get Medicare at 65.
I’m divorced and have my own 10- year work history. Can ex-spousal payments help me?
If your ex-spouse also has a 10-year work history, you’re what I call a “dualie.” That means you’re duallyeligible for Social Security, as a workerand as a former spouse.
That clears the road to the “Dualie Detour.” Wait until your FRA to file for Social Security, and then file only for the ex-spousal payment. Hold your own Social Security in reserve. At age 70, get a raise by filing for your own Social Security—by then it has reached its maximum, 132% of your age-66 payment. Of course this pathway assumes that your own payment at 70 is greater than the spousal payment. The Detour won’t work if you file for Social Security before FRA, so be patient.
I want to remarry.
While you are married you cannot get Social Security from your exspouse. (But see the exception below if your ex-spouse is deceased.)
My ex passed away. How does that change things?
The Social Security Administration calls you a “surviving divorced spouse.” Survivor payments are different in four ways:
- Reduced payments are available as early as 60 (or 50 if you’re disabled).
- You can get up to 100% of your ex-spouse’s Social Security, not the 50% payable from a living exspouse. (Please don’t think of this as an incentive … !)
- You can remarry and still receive survivor payments, as long as your remarriage was after age 60.
- The Dualie Detour opens earlier. You can take one payment before FRA, and still maximize the other one (the survivor payment maximizes at FRA; your own Social Security maximizes at 70).
How can I learn more?
Check the SSA websites on divorced spouses or surviving divorced spouses. Be sure to consult with the Social Security Administration before committing to any pathway.
And as always, keep on planning.
Andy Landis, founder of Thinking Retirement, is an author, speaker, and consultant specializing in Social Security, Medicare, and life planning for retirement. If you have questions about Social Security, email firstname.lastname@example.org.