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  • Writer's pictureChris Stein, CFP®

Divorced Spouse Benefits

The following question regarding divorced spouse benefits came in from a reader this week:

“My mother is about to turn 66 and is ready to retire. She divorced many years ago after 11 years of marriage. I’ve told her that she can claim spousal benefits on her ex-husbands record, but she is worried that he will find out or that it will affect his benefits. Does he have to be involved and does it actually take away from him?”

Good News

I have several pieces of good news for you. You are correct that she is eligible for ex-spouse benefits since they were married at least 10 years. This assumes she is not re-married and that her ex-husband is at least 62 years old when she files. Technically there is also a requirement that either he is claiming his own benefit prior to her application OR that they have been divorced more than two years. Since you said it has been many years, I am assuming she meets this requirement.

More Good News

The next piece of good news is that he does not need to be notified of her application on his record, nor will it affect his benefits, or any benefits paid to others on his record (like a new spouse, if he remarried).

Even More Good News

There is even one more bit of good news that may help her. Since she was born prior to January 2nd, 1954, she can still file what is called a “restricted application” for benefits. This would allow her to claim her spousal benefit alone on his record, then wait for her own benefit to grow to age 70 by earning delayed retirement credits, where her own benefit may be larger than the spousal benefit. This assumes that she has her own earned retirement benefit. If her benefit will always be lower, then there is no need to consider this, but it is often the case that a person’s age 70 benefit will exceed a spousal benefit. You do not make it clear if she has a retirement benefit of her own, but if so it is worth looking into this strategy.

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