How Does the ’10-Year Rule’ Impact Social Security Benefits?

Retired couple
Photo by wavebreakmedia /

Welcome to the Social Security Q&A. You ask a Social Security question, our expert provides the answer.

You can learn how to ask a question of your own below. And if you would like a personalized report detailing your optimal Social Security claiming strategy, click here. Check it out: It could result in receiving thousands of dollars more in benefits over your lifetime!

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 your 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.

Got a question you’d like answered?

You can ask a question simply by hitting “reply” to our email newsletter, just as you would with any email in your inbox. If you’re not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here. It’s free, only takes a few seconds, and will get you valuable information every day!

The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. So, it’s better not to ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you.

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, 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.

How to find cheaper car insurance in minutes

Getting a better deal on car insurance doesn't have to be hard. You can have The Zebra, an insurance comparison site compare quotes in just a few minutes and find you the best rates. Consumers save an average of $368 per year, according to the site, so if you're ready to secure your new rate, get started now.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Avoiding These 5 Foods Could Save Your Vision as You Age
Avoiding These 5 Foods Could Save Your Vision as You Age

Millions of Americans may be able to prevent an incurable cause of blindness by making a basic change.

22 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store
22 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store

The dollar store has great bargains on these purchases.

8 Key Steps to Planning for Retirement as a Couple
8 Key Steps to Planning for Retirement as a Couple

Ready for retirement? Not so fast. You might be surprised at some of the issues that come up for couples when they plan.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.