Can I Get Social Security Benefits from My Ex-Spouse Even If It’s Not in My Divorce Decree?

Jeneen Slack |

 

QUESTION:
I heard that I may be entitled to collect Social Security benefits when I retire based on my ex-spouse’s earnings. But I looked at my divorce decree and it doesn’t say anything about it. Did I miss the boat?

ANSWER:
Here’s some good news about your divorce. If you were married to your ex-spouse for ten years before your divorce became final, you are entitled to Social Security benefits based on their earnings by operation of federal law.

That means it doesn’t have to be addressed in your divorce papers to be effective. Those benefits are called “derivative benefits,” and they equal one-half of your ex-spouse’s benefits. You may apply to the Social Security Administration for derivative benefits on your ex’s earnings record if:

  • Both you and your ex-spouse are at least 62 years old
  • You aren’t remarried
  • You would receive less Social Security without the derivative benefits on your own

Furthermore, it isn’t necessary for your spouse to retire for you to begin collecting.

How Derivative Benefits Work

Here’s another piece of good news. Unlike other pensions, the derivative Social Security benefits you receive will be based on your ex-spouse’s entire earnings record, not just their earnings during the time you were married.

The Social Security benefits you receive won’t reduce the amount they receive. If they’re remarried, it won’t reduce what their current spouse is entitled to receive. And if they have a new family, it won’t reduce the amount their young children receive either.

You can only receive one Social Security check, so if your own earnings record entitles you to more money than the derivative benefits, you’ll collect benefits based on the highest amount to which you are entitled.

If you have more than one ex-spouse, and you were married to each of them for ten years or longer, you’ll collect whichever earnings record gives you the higher benefits.

Be aware that if you are a government employee, your Social Security benefits will be reduced by a portion of any government pension that you are receiving based on your own earnings. However, if you receive a government pension because an ex-spouse worked for the government, it won’t affect your ability to collect Social Security.

Have more questions about the financial fallout of divorce? Consider signing up for a Second Saturday Divorce Workshop. These workshops bring in divorce experts to answer your most pressing divorce questions and to help you prepare for this life-changing transition.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Women's Institute for Financial Education (WIFE.org), creator of the Second Saturday Divorce Workshops. Founded in 1988, WIFE is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing financial education for women. Copyright 2019. TR# 3438983 DOFU 2/2021