Does Being Married Less Than 10 Years Impact Social Security Benefits?

Senior couple
Photo by PVStocker / Shutterstock.com

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Today’s question comes from Janel:

“My husband and I have been together for over 20 years, but married less than 10. Does a ‘legally separated’ status or ‘married living separately’ possibly allow each other to benefit from Social Security spousal benefits?

My husband was born in 1958. I am two years younger. At full retirement age, his estimated Social Security benefit is about $2,400, and mine is approximately $950.”

Divorce and your benefit

Janel, if you have been married for at least one year, you are potentially eligible to receive some amount of spousal benefits.

The 10-year rule to which you refer applies to divorced persons. To qualify for spousal benefits as an ex-spouse, you would need to have been married for at least 10 years, and divorced for at least two years. If your state recognizes common-law marriages, then “living together” can satisfy the Social Security Administration’s marriage rules.

The amount of spousal benefits you might receive depends on the relative size of your husband’s full retirement age (FRA) benefit and your FRA benefit. If your FRA benefit was zero, then you could receive one-half of your husband’s FRA benefit at your FRA; that is, $1,250.

However, you have benefits of your own. So, the Social Security Administration tops off your benefit of $950 with a spousal supplement of $300, bringing your total benefit up to $1,250.

I used my firm’s software to analyze your case a bit further. I assume normal life expectancies of 82 for your husband and 86 for you. The analysis shows that you can maximize lifetime benefits as a couple by doing the following:

You claim your own benefit at age 62. You will receive $665 in reduced retirement benefits. You cannot claim spousal benefits until your husband claims his own benefit.

My analysis indicates that your husband should claim at 69, receiving $2,847 as a result of delayed retirement credits. At this point, you qualify for your spousal supplement of $300, increasing your total benefit to $995. Since you will start receiving the spousal supplement after reaching your FRA, there is no early claiming penalty (as there was with your own benefit).

As a final point, the computer evaluation revealed that you could claim at any other age up to your FRA and suffer very little in terms of lost Social Security benefits. So, if you choose to work past age 62 and the Social Security earnings penalty is significant for you, it may make sense to delay claiming your Social Security benefits.

Janel, your case is another one that could benefit from inexpensive professional help.

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About me

I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years.

In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

Got any words of wisdom you can offer on today’s question? Share your knowledge and experiences on our Facebook page.

Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.

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