February 24, 2016 | by Chris Stein, CFP®, Finance Instructor at Colorado State University
Divorced Spouse Benefits When Exes Don’t Talk

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We have blogged about divorced spouse benefits several times, but we received an email question leading us to believe we may need to expand on a few things.  Remember from previous blogs that divorced spouses can claim a divorced spouse benefit on their living ex-spouse’s record, or even a divorced spouse survivor benefit if their ex is deceased as long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years prior to divorce.  Additionally, to claim an ex-spouse benefit your ex must have reached the age of 62 OR you must be divorced for at least 2 years.

SSA Privacy Rules

Let us assume we have a divorced couple who was married at least 10 years and got divorced less than amicably several years ago.  Now the two are approaching Social Security claiming age and want to know what benefit they may be able to claim based on their ex-spouse’s record. The spousal benefit is equal to 50% of the worker’s Full Retirement Age (FRA) benefit, also known as the worker’s PIA (Primary Insurance Amount). In order to file for a spousal benefit, you need your ex-spouse’s PIA number, but if the spouses are not talking to each other this can be problematic.  An additional issue we have run into before is that due to privacy rules the Social Security Administration (SSA) cannot tell you what your ex-spouse’s benefit is.  If you call the SSA and ask them what your ex-spouse’s PIA is they will kindly decline to tell you due to privacy issues.  However, as was pointed out on a previous Divorced Spouse Benefit blog post, if you instead call the SSA and ask how much your divorced spouse benefit will be based on your ex-spouse’s record they will tell you, since they are only telling you information about your own benefit.  Of course with a little math we can calculate what your ex-spouse’s PIA is since the spousal benefit is equal to 50% of the worker’s PIA assuming you claim it at or after your FRA.  This is clearly a technicality since they are not actually telling you the PIA directly; they are instead telling you 50% of the PIA (got to love government logic…).

Find What Your Spousal Benefit Will Be

We were recently contacted about a situation like this, wherein the ex-spouses did not communicate and the ex-husband wanted to find out what his divorced spouse benefit will be once his ex-wife turns 62.  The husband in our scenario is currently 66 and the ex-wife is 59.  As we now know, the husband needs to call the SSA and find out what his spousal benefit will be when the ex-wife turns 62.  They will NOT tell him her PIA, but instead will readily supply 50% of her PIA.  But, as a reminder, the wife’s age plays NO PART in determining the amount of the spousal benefit.  The moment she turns 62 he becomes eligible to claim a divorced spouse benefit, and the amount is based solely on her PIA and HIS age, not her age.  If he were claiming before his FRA he would experience a reduction and get something less than 50% of her PIA, but since he is already over his FRA (remember he is 66 already and will be 69 when the ex-wife turns 62) he will be eligible to collect the full 50% of her PIA, DESPITE the ex-wife only being 62.  The fact that at his claiming she has not yet reached her FRA is irrelevant.

Since we are seeing more and more of these long term marriages (over 10 years) that have sometimes ended in divorce we felt it beneficial to summarize again what is turning out to be a common situation.

If you have any questions regarding this or other Social Security issues, please contact us. nd please use the play buton below to hear more about this topic.

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