The unfortunate reality of today’s divorce rate causes many questions to arise about how the Social Security system handles benefits after a divorce. When you are married for at least 12 months you qualify for a spousal benefit based on your spouse’s earnings record or your own benefit if you qualify with your own earnings record. However, if you get divorced your right to a spousal benefit MAY go away. That’s right, you MAY actually still qualify for a spousal benefit after being divorced if you meet the following criteria:
- Your marriage lasted 10 years or longer;
- You are unmarried;
- You are age 62 or older;
- Your ex-spouse is entitled to retirement or disability benefits;
- You have been divorced at least 2 years.
Filing for a Spousal Benefit
If you meet the above criteria you have the option of filing for a spousal benefit, whether or not your ex-spouse has filed themselves. This is actually a more lenient requirement than if you were still married. If you are currently married your spouse has to have filed for their own benefit in order to unlock your ability to file for a spousal benefit. Not so in the case of a divorce.
We are also asked about what happens if you remarry. If you remarry you effectively “hitch your wagon to a new horse” and now may only file for a spousal benefit on your new spouses record, unless this subsequent marriage ends. If this happens you may actually go back and file on your first spouses record if you still meet all the above requirements. If somehow you end up with two (or more) ex-spouses that meet the above criteria you actually now have the choice to take the highest benefit from any one of your former spouses.
If you claim a spousal benefit on an ex-spouses earnings record their payments will not be affected, and in fact they will not even be notified that you have filed such a claim. Their benefit is separate and distinct from the benefit you may claim.
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