I was married for 17 years. My ex-husband didn’t pay child support. After going to court two years ago, I finally received about a quarter of what he owed, and the case was closed. I never remarried. This year, he turned 62 and I’ll be 60. Can I apply for half his Social Security? Since he’s eligible for Social Security at 62 and he didn’t meet his support obligation, can I be compensated? I’ll probably take my own Social Security at 62, or continue to work and wait till 66.

Social Security doesn’t compensate anyone for the behavior of an irresponsible former spouse.

There are four requirements to qualify for a spousal benefit based on an ex’s earnings record: 1) Your marriage lasted at least 10 years. 2) You haven’t remarried. 3) You and your ex are both eligible for Social Security — for example, you’re both at least 62 years old. 4) Your benefit based on his earnings is bigger than your benefit based on your own earnings.

At 62, you can’t claim a spousal benefit and postpone your own benefit to a later date. When you apply for Social Security, you’ll automatically be claiming both these benefits and you’ll receive the larger of the two amounts. (And because you’re applying early, both benefits are permanently reduced. At 62, you’re eligible to receive only 35 percent of his benefit or 75 percent of your own, whichever is more.)

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To claim the full amount — 50 percent of your ex’s benefit or 100 percent of your own benefit — you must delay your application until your full retirement age; in your case, age 66.

THE BOTTOM LINE Social Security rules don’t bend to fit individual situations.

WEBSITES WITH MORE INFORMATION

ssa.gov/planners/retire/retirechart.html

ssa.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html