Social Security Benefits for an Ex-Spouse

Know What You Can Collect and When You're Eligible

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If you were born on or before Jan. 1, 1954, have a previous marriage that lasted at least 10 years, and you have not remarried, you may be eligible to collect Social Security benefits based on your former spouse's earnings record. If you have not had a lot of qualifying earnings over your lifetime, this rule could put more money in your pocket.

Eligibility

You must still be single to claim benefits based on your ex-spouse's earnings record. If you have remarried, you are not eligible, and if you get married while you already are receiving benefits, your eligibility will come to an end.

If you collect benefits based on your ex-spouse's record, it does not reduce the ex-spouse's or the benefits of any current spouse he or she may have. Your ex-spouse must have worked enough to be eligible for Social Security. And, your ex-spouse must be at least age 62, which is the earliest age you become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.

Benefits

The maximum amount of Social Security benefits you can receive based on an ex-spouse's record is 50 percent of what your ex-spouse would get at their full retirement age, which varies based on the year of birth. This spousal benefit amount is further reduced if you file before you reach your own full retirement age.

If you know approximately what your ex-spouse earned, and their date of birth, you can use a Social Security calculator to estimate their benefit. The only way to find out for sure what your Social Security benefit would be based on your ex-spouse's record is to ask them what their primary insurance amount is. Primary insurance amount, or PIA, is the benefit amount they would receive at their full retirement age.

If you collect benefits based on your ex-spouse's record, it does not reduce the ex-spouse's or the benefits of any current spouse he or she may have.

When you file for benefits, the Social Security Administration automatically gives you the larger of your own benefit or a spousal (or ex-spousal) benefit. You cannot choose which to receive.

If you wait until full retirement age to file, you have the option to file a restricted application so that you receive only the ex-spousal benefit while letting your own benefit amount continue to accumulate delayed retirement credits from your full retirement age until you reach age 70. When you reach 70, you can switch to your own benefit amount. This restricted application option is not available if you file before you reach your full retirement age.

If your ex-spouse is younger than you, you can collect your own benefit when you become eligible to do so, then switch to collecting on theirs once they become eligible for theirs.

Still Working

If you collect benefits of any type prior to reaching your full retirement age and continue to work, earning more than the allowable Social Security earnings limit that year, you may owe some benefits back. Once you reach your full retirement age, that earnings limit no longer applies and you can earn any amount and still collect your benefits.