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How to collect Social Security on a former spouse

We help many clients who are going through or have been divorced.  A very common question in these cases, or at least one which should be asked but often isn't, is "What are the rules regarding Social Security in a divorce?"  I hope that my explanation below clarifies this question somewhat.

The basic rules to collect on an ex spouse are that a person must have been married at least 10 years and divorced at least two years, and not be remarried. 

The exes don't have to coordinate their claiming strategies or even communicate with each other.  They can collect benefits independently as long as the ex-spouse is eligible for benefits, even if he or she hasn't yet filed for benefits.

A divorced spouse can collect his or her own reduced benefits as early as 62 but is subject to the earnings cap if working while collecting benefits.  This year, $1 in Social Security benefits is lost for every $2 earned over this year's limit of $14,640 (Source:

But divorced people who wait until their Full Retirement Age can restrict their claims to spousal benefits.  That means they can collect half the full benefit to which the ex is entitled at the normal retirement age (not including delayed retirement credits) and delay collecting their own benefits until 70, when they will be worth the maximum amount.

The divorced spouses can claim spousal benefits, based on the other's earnings record, at the same time.

If this situation applies to you, you should crunch the numbers to see if it makes sense for you, or hire us to crunch the numbers for you.

A lower earning spouse may be better off claiming reduced benefits early at 62, assuming he or she is no longer working, or not earning more than the earnings cap.  That way, needed benefits can be collected as early as possible.

The reason collecting a reduced benefit early might make sense is that the individual still would be eligible for a much larger survivor benefit if the ex-spouse died first.  As long as he or she is at least Full Retirement Age, the individual would receive an unreduced survivor benefit worth 100% of what the ex-spouse received during his or her lifetime, including any delayed retirement credits.

In addition, the individual can collect survivor benefits even if the ex-spouse remarried.  It won't affect the survivor benefits of the ex's last spouse.

If you would like more information on this topic and more about Social Security in general we are having a free educational seminar on this very topic on September 27, 2012 at the Mediterano restaurant in Ann Arbor.  Please email or call (734) 433-1670 to reserve your seat!

White House Financial & Settlement Consulting helps families live easier and less stressful lives through the proper management of their financial resources.  We do this by acting as our clients’ trusted advisor providing a personal touch customized to the client’s needs!  Please visit our web site at for more information!

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