Social Security Benefits for Spouses and Ex-Spouses

Even if you never worked a day in your life, you can collect a portion of your employed spouse’s social security benefits.

If you wait until both of you are full retirement age, 66 for most people, you get 50% of the benefit of the higher earning spouse. If you are divorced but were married for at least 10 years you can get up to 50% of the amount of Social Security benefits your ex receives. If you live in one of the 15 states that recognize common-law marriage (Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington, D.C.), you may be “considered married” as long as you were living together and most people thought you were married.

A person could feasibly have five ex-spouses, from any marriage lasting over 10 years, with all of the ex-spouses receiving benefits.

Here are some other facts regarding exes collecting a spouse’s Social Security benefits:

• When a person goes from a divorced spouse to a surviving divorced spouse, the benefit amount will increase. If a surviving spouse is over full retirement age, they could generally expect to receive the full payment amount of the deceased ex-spouse.

• If your ex-spouse is still living, you must be age 62 or older to receive Social Security benefits. But if he or she is deceased, you may be able to start taking benefits at age 60, or age 50 if you are disabled.

• If you were married to a higher-earning spouse for over a decade and then had a brief but unsuccessful marriage to someone else, one consolation is that at least you haven’t permanently lost your Social Security benefits from the first marriage.

• You cannot take benefits on an ex-spouse’s record while you are married to someone else. But if you remarry and then you divorce again, after two years you are eligible to apply for benefits from the prior spouse again.

• If you have more than one ex for over a decade you can receive the higher benefit. • The other ex-spouses are not affected by the decision of whose record on which to claim Social Security benefits.

• It doesn’t matter if your ex hasn’t started taking benefits yet, as long as you have been divorced at least two years.

• A higher-earning spouse may think it affects how much they receive in benefits. It doesn’t. A spouse who is entitled to benefits based on his or her ex’s earnings may not want him or her to know they are taking benefits based on his or her record. An ex-spouse is not affected by the benefits you receive and is not notified. However, if your ex is really curious, they are entitled by law to know the names and benefit amounts of anyone receiving benefits off of his or her record. However, they are not entitled to mailing address or other identifying information.

• Your worker benefits aren’t ever reduced by how much your spouse gets.

• When a spouse dies, the survivor receives his or her her widow’s benefit first as early as age 60 (50 if disabled). He or she can switch over to their own worker’s benefit as soon as he or she is eligible. And remember this: If a spouse takes his or her worker benefits first and the widow/er benefit second, there is no penalty for taking early worker benefits.

• If you take benefits before your full retirement age, you’ll get less, depending on how soon you take them.

• The length of marriage calculation is exactly from the day the marriage ceremony begins to the day the divorce is finalized.

• There are different rules if the ex-spouse is alive or deceased.

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