Welcome to our “Social Security Q&A” series. You ask a question about Social Security, and a guest expert answers it.
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Today’s question comes from Mike:
“Can you answer a Social Security question for me? I was divorced in 2013, and I heard my ex can claim my Social Security benefits. So, will I even get a check, and how much will she be able to take from me?”
Not as bleak as it seems
Mike, I am pleased to let you know that your situation is nowhere near as bleak as you suggest. Your ex may or may not be able to claim some benefits on your Social Security record. The good news for you is that even if she does qualify for benefits on your record, it will cost you nothing. Let me explain.
First, you don’t say how long your marriage lasted. For your ex to qualify for benefits on your record, your marriage needs to have lasted at least 10 years. Anything shorter means that she does not qualify for benefits after your divorce.
A second requirement for an ex-spousal benefit is that she cannot be remarried at the time of the application for benefits on your record. If she remarries and then divorces again, she remains potentially eligible for benefits on your record unless she remarries again.
Even if the above requirements are met, she still may not qualify for benefits. It depends on the amount of her own Social Security benefits relative to her potential ex-spousal benefit.
The calculation is done by comparing full retirement age (FRA) benefits. The maximum ex-spousal benefit equals one-half of your FRA benefit. If her own benefit exceeds one-half of this amount, she will not receive any ex-spousal benefits. If her own benefit is less than one-half this amount, she receives something in ex-spousal benefits, with the exact amount depending again on the FRA benefit amounts mentioned above.
Here is an illustration:
Suppose your FRA benefit amount is $2,000. Her maximum ex-spousal benefit, if she has no benefit on her own, would be $1,000.
If she has her own benefits, that $1,000 is reduced by the amount of her own FRA benefit. Suppose her own FRA benefit is $700. In that case, she qualifies for an ex-spousal benefit of $300 at her FRA, bringing her total benefit to $1,000.
Of course, if she claims earlier than her FRA, her actual benefits will be less than the amounts mentioned here.
As previously noted, if she eventually does receive an ex-spousal benefit, it will have no impact on your benefit, or on your current spouse’s benefit if you remarry. In fact, the Social Security Administration will not even inform you that an ex-spousal benefit is being paid on your record.
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You also can find all past answers from this series on the “Social Security Q&A” webpage.
I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years.
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.