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Ask the Expert: Social Security for divorced spouses

My ex-wife and I were married for 18 years and both worked full time. I started Social Security at 62. She didn't start until she was 67. Am I entitled to an increased benefit now that she's collecting Social Security? Also, I had an emergency quadruple bypass in 2014. Am I entitled to a Social Security increase because of that?

Your local Social Security office can tell you if you're eligible to apply for a spousal benefit based on your ex-wife's work record. But even if you are, whether the application would boost your monthly check depends on a formula comparing your spousal benefit to your own benefit.

A person must meet four requirements to apply for Social Security based on his or her former spouse's work record.

1. Your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years.

2. You must currently be unmarried.

3. You and your ex must both qualify for Social Security. (That means you're either at least 62 years old or eligible for Social Security Disability.)

4. Your benefit based on your ex's work record must be bigger than the one based on your own record.

Your bypass surgery won't affect your Social Security benefit if you're over your full retirement age; but if you're younger, you may be eligible for Social Security disability, says Linda Lauria, a Social Security Administration spokeswoman. In general, a person's Social Security disability benefit is equal to the Social Security retirement benefit he would receive at full retirement age. But there's an asterisk: People get less if they previously collected a reduced retirement benefit, as you have. The size of their disability payment is reduced by the number of months they collected Social Security retirement benefits.

The bottom line

Divorced people sometimes qualify for Social Security based on a former spouse's work record.

More information

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