Spousal Social Security benefits are not denied automatically in the event you and your spouse opt to divorce. There are circumstances under which you remain eligible to receive your spousal benefits from your ex's Social Security. Thankfully, the criteria are straightforward, and as long as you qualify, there should not be an issue in collecting what is rightfully yours. Even though you've dissolved your marriage, you may still be eligible for Social Security benefits after your divorce.
Conditions Under Which You May Collect
Being formerly married will not automatically entitle you to your ex-spouse's Social Security benefits; you must meet certain requirements before the Social Security Administration will honor your request for Spousal Social Security. Specifically, you must have divorced after at least 10 years or marriage or longer; be at least 62 years old; have a lesser amount of Social Security benefits accumulated during your employment than your spouse's benefit amount; have been married to a spouse who is qualified to receive Social Security and/or disability benefits him or herself.
It does not matter if your spouse has remarried. If you meet the requirements above, you can file to receive Spousal Social Security, and your benefit amount will be 50 percent of your ex-spouse's amount once you reach your full retirement age, which is calculated based upon your birth year.
Some Things to Note
There are some situations where the above won't be quite as cut and dry. If you remarry, you will not be able to collect Spousal Social Security from your ex-spouse until such time as your current marriage ends and you are single again. In addition, if your ex-spouse does not yet qualify, or has not applied, for retirement benefits but you have - say your ex-spouse is younger and not of retirement age yet - you may still apply for your spousal benefits provided your divorce has been finalized for two years or longer.
Naturally, in this scenario the Social Security Administration will administer your retirement benefits to you first; however, if your spousal benefits are greater than yours are, you will receive a portion of those benefits, as well, even though your ex has not yet retired, so that the combined total equals the higher amount. You may also choose to receive only one or the other at this time and delay the additional benefit if you have reached full retirement age. Of course, all traditional rules apply if you continue working and desire to collect Social Security alongside your income.
How to Get Your Spousal Benefits
You must go through the traditional application process and be approved to receive your Spousal Social Security. In this case, you will be applying for what the SSA calls “Divorced Spouse's Benefits.” You may do this either by visiting your local Social Security office or filling out your application online at the SSA's website. Either way, be prepared to provide:
- Your name and place of birth or resident alien card information
- Your marriage and divorce information, including your and your ex-spouse's names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, the dates you were married and divorced, the place you were married, and whether you are currently married again and to whom;
- Names and dates of birth of your children from your former marriage;
- Your employment details past and present (plan on providing your entire history);
- Your bank account information (this is so the SSA can deposit your benefits monthly.
What to Expect
Once you've completed your application, the SSA will review it and consider your request for spousal benefits. How long this takes is dependent upon numerous factors, including your age and date of eligibility to receive retirement benefits. Expect to be contacted if the SSA has any questions or concerns about your application, and if, for some reason, your application is rejected, you should receive an explanation behind the administration's decision.
Hopefully this won't happen, particularly if you meet all the requirements for eligibility. If it does, however, you have the right to attest the decision and demand a hearing. Don't go this process alone. Rather, ensure that you have proper legal counsel backing you up as prepare to fight for your entitled benefits. After all, you will be fighting against an agency of the federal government and you should be represented by qualified people focused on getting you the benefits to which you are entitled.