A reader who is now divorced after being married for more than 45 years reached out to ask the following: "Am I entitled to half of [my ex-husband's] Social Security, or do I have to wait until his passing? I have been told the ex has to have passed away, but others have told me that since I was married for so long, I should be entitled to it."
It's an important question for those who are divorced and wonder about receiving benefits based on a spouse's earnings -- and perhaps a gray area for many people.
Only 56% correctly answered "true" to the question "If I get divorced, I might be able to collect Social Security benefits based on my ex-spouse's Social Security earnings history," according to a 2023 online poll of 1,500 Americans commissioned by MassMutual, a life insurance and financial services company, and conducted March 31 to April 5 (tinyurl.com/y7jh5mpd).
The Social Security Administration (SSA), in an August 2021 report, projects that women will make up 83% of 484,000 divorced spousal beneficiaries age 62 or older in the year 2050 (tinyurl.com/4kmk5rcx).
In order to be eligible to receive benefits based on a former spouse's Social Security record, there are certain requirements you have to meet, according to the SSA website (tinyurl.com/3dm87x3r). One key factor: The marriage to your now-former husband or wife had to have lasted 10 years or longer.
Other requirements include:
-- You are 62 or older.
-- You are unmarried (although your ex-spouse can be remarried). If you have remarried, "you can't collect benefits on your former spouse's record unless your later marriage ended by annulment, divorce or death," according to a blog on the SSA website (tinyurl.com/ke6sx54).
-- The benefit you would receive based on your work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your former spouse's work.
-- Your former spouse can qualify for retirement or disability benefits (even if he or she has not applied for those benefits), and you have been divorced for at least two continuous years.
If you, as an ex-spouse, are eligible for retirement benefits on your own, then Social Security will pay that amount first. If your former spouse's benefits are higher, then you will get the additional amount above your benefits level so that "the combination of benefits equals the higher amount," according to the SSA website.
What if you are the divorced spouse of a worker who dies? According to the SSA website, you "could get benefits the same as a surviving spouse, provided that your marriage lasted 10 years or more." See more details at tinyurl.com/2dkv4w75.
And how does all of the above affect the spouse who has the higher Social Security benefit -- in this case, the divorced reader's ex-husband? "The amount of benefits your divorced spouse gets has no effect on the amount of benefits you or your current spouse may receive," according to the website.
If you are considering filing for benefits related to an ex-spouse, be sure to reach out to the SSA to get a full understanding of your situation. You can apply online (tinyurl.com/4u7fxrhj), by phone (800-772-1213; TTY 800-325-0778), or by visiting your local Social Security office (tinyurl.com/yc8pjafx). There is a list of documents you might need to provide (to show that you are eligible for the benefits), and questions you will be asked, at tinyurl.com/mpwknp6j.
On another note, don't forget to compete for the title of 401(k)Champion if you are a 401(k) participant. This is a pro bono financial literacy effort that I fund. I challenge you to write the winning essay. Visit www.401kchampion.com for details.
DISTRIBUTED BY ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION