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Ask the expert: Spousal benefits for divorcees

I’m 63 years old and I plan to retire at 66. I was married for 34 years, and I’ve been divorced for 5 years. When I file for Social Security at 66, my ex-husband will be 64. Will I be able to collect spousal benefits even if he isn’t retired? Also, does my spousal benefit affect his benefit amount when he retires?

Your spousal benefit won’t affect the amount of your ex-husband’s retirement benefit.

If you were still married to each other, you couldn’t apply for a benefit based on his earnings until after he had filed for Social Security. But it’s different when you’re divorced. To apply for Social Security based on a former spouse’s earnings, you must meet these requirements:

  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • You haven’t remarried.
  • You and your ex are both at least 62 years old. In other words, he’s old enough to file for Social Security even if he hasn’t done so.

At 66, you’ll have two options:

  • You can file for all the Social Security benefits you’re eligible to receive — i.e., your own benefit and your spousal benefit — and receive the higher of the two.
  • You can file a restricted application for your spousal benefit alone, and switch to your own benefit later. When you postpone your benefit after full retirement age, it grows 8 percent a year for up to four years of delay.

The second option is available only to people who were born before Jan. 2, 1954, when they don’t apply for Social Security until their full retirement age. Younger people will only have the first option when they reach full retirement age.

THE BOTTOM LINE Divorced people sometimes qualify for Social Security based on a former spouse’s earnings.



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