Any divorce is tough, but late in life divorce presents special challenges, even as it becomes more and more common. While divorce in general is declining in America, the divorce rate among Americans aged 50 and up has nearly doubled since the 1990s, and nearly tripled (!) for those over age 65. A recent article from Kiplinger entitled “Yes, You Can Collect Social Security from an Ex-Spouse: Here’s How” contains valuable information for those considering or in the midst of a gray divorce.

Most importantly, yes, you can collect Social Security (SS) benefits based on the earnings of your ex, if you meet these requirements:

  • At least 62 years old.
  • Currently single.
  • Were married to the ex-spouse for at least ten years.
  • The benefit you would receive from your own work history is less than the benefit you’d receive from your former spouse’s work history.
  • Your ex-spouse qualifies for Social Security benefits.

For all spouses, including exes, you may receive up to 50% of the amount your spouse or former spouse would receive in benefits at their full retirement age. Note that this is not in addition to your own benefit. Your benefit must also be lower than half of your ex’s benefit in order for this rule to apply.

Let’s say your own monthly SS check would be $1,000. If the check of your ex-spouse would be $1,500, then you would not be eligible for former spousal benefits ($1,000 is more than $750, which is half of $1,500).

Timing is another factor in Social Security, for benefits from your own earnings or from an ex-spouse. Your benefits at age 62 are less than what you are eligible for at full retirement age. To get the full 50% of your ex’s benefits, you must wait until your own full retirement age. Unlike applying on your own earnings record, waiting to apply for your ex-spouse’s earnings does not increase after full retirement age.

If your ex is deceased, you may be eligible for the same survivor benefits as current spouses, which may mean you could receive the full amount of your ex’s benefits rather than half. Here are the requirements: your marriage must have lasted at least ten years, and the amount has to be greater than what you would receive based on your own earning records. However, there is one major difference: you can start receiving survivor benefits as early as age 60, and if you are disabled, at age 50.

When applying for benefits on an ex’s record, you’ll need to provide a fair amount of information about yourself and your work history. That includes a birth certificate, proof of citizenship if you were not born in the U.S., military discharge papers if you served before 1968, W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns, your marriage certificate and final divorce decree. Some of the documents will need to be originals.

There are a number of ways to maximize your Social Security benefits, regardless of your marital status. It’s a good idea to learn all you can about the options before you retire, so you can receive the benefits you deserve.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 13, 2021) “Yes, You Can Collect Social Security from an Ex-Spouse: Here’s How”