Social Security Q&A: Can I Make a Claim on My Ex’s Benefits?

Divorced older couple
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This week’s question comes from M:

“Am I able to claim my ex-spouse’s Social Security even though he hasn’t filed? There’s a year difference in our ages. He’s younger.”

M, this is a great question, because the divorce rate is rising sharply among the 50-and-over population. So, many people may find themselves wondering the same thing.

The short answer is, yes, you can claim ex-spousal benefits even though your ex-spouse has not claimed his own benefits, provided that he is at least 62.

In fact, ex-spouses actually receive favorable treatment from the Social Security Administration relative to spouses. If you were still married, you could not claim spousal benefits until your husband actually started his own benefits.

Your ex-spousal benefit at your full retirement age will equal one-half your husband’s retirement benefit at his full retirement age. Your ex-spousal benefit is reduced if you have your own retirement benefit, or if you claim early, before your full retirement age.

M, you mentioned that your ex is a year younger than you. That fact has no bearing on your eligibility for spousal benefits as long as he is at least 62.

Other requirements

There are some additional requirements that might affect you.

First, you must have been married for at least 10 years.

Second, you cannot currently be married. If you ever remarried, but are not currently married, you could receive ex-spousal benefits from either ex-spouse (but not both), provided you meet the 10-year rule for both.

Third, if you have your own benefits, any ex-spousal benefits will be coordinated with your own benefits. M, for you to receive any ex-spousal benefits, your own benefits at your full retirement age must be less than one-half your ex-husband’s benefit at his full retirement age. This rule applies even if you claim prior to your full retirement age.

There is one exception to this rule. It arises if you were born prior to 1954 and you have reached your full retirement age. In that case, you can claim ex-spousal benefits without claiming your own benefits at the same time, meaning that the “less than one-half” rule stated above does not apply to you, until you apply for your own benefits.

If you were born prior to 1954, you can defer claiming your own benefits, allowing them to grow up to age 70. However, if you were born in 1954 or later, you must claim both benefits simultaneously.

A final point: If you claim ex-spousal benefits, your ex-husband’s benefits are unaffected. In fact, he does not even need to know that you have claimed benefits on his record. Likewise, if he has remarried and his current wife qualifies for spousal benefits, her benefits are unaffected by your claim on his record.

If you want to dive more deeply into this issue, you should take a look at this page on the SSA website.

Hope that answers your question, M!

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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. And if you find this information useful, please share it!

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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