FAQ: Social Security Spouse and Divorced Spouse Benefits:

| October 14, 2015

Social Security continues to be a hot topic in which we get a lot of questions. So every once in a while we like to post some of these questions on our blog for you to read and stay informed. Today’s questions are about spousal and divorced spouse benefits. Yes indeed, this is a good subject!

Ok, let me give you the gist of this strategy:

Spousal benefits are part of a strategy called file and suspend – some of you know this already. This is where the spouse with the higher earnings record files for their own Social Security benefit and immediately suspends it. Then the other spouse files a restricted application for a spousal benefit and it’s based off the higher earnings spouses benefit. IF, IF, IF done correctly, the spousal benefit is half of the higher earning spouses full retirement age benefit. Then the lower earnings spouse takes this spousal benefit while their own benefit grows at about 8% per year. So now let’s look at some of our questions:

Can a married couple claim a spousal benefit on each other at the same time?

No. I put this one first because this is a very common question.  The reason they can’t both collect a spousal benefit at the same time is that in order for Jill, say, to collect a spouse benefit based on Jack’s record, Jack must file for his own benefit (and suspend, if he wishes to delay).  Once he files for his own benefit, he would be prohibited from restricting his application to his spousal benefit. 

We have a couple both age 62.  Can he file and suspend so she can start her spousal benefit?

No.  He can’t file and suspend until full retirement age (usually around age 66-67).  Voluntary suspension was authorized by the Senior Citizens’ Right to Work Act of 2000.  According to the law, it can only be done at full retirement age or later.

If someone remarries after age 60, can they collect a divorced-spouse benefit?

No.  As long as your ex-husband is alive, the age of remarriage is irrelevant for divorced-spouse benefits.  If you are married, you cannot collect a divorced-spouse benefit.  However, if your ex-husband is deceased, the age of remarriage IS relevant.  If you remarry after age 60 you CAN collect a divorced-spouse survivor benefit.  This is a common area of misunderstanding.  Just remember, if the ex is alive, remarriage at any age negates divorced-spouse benefits.  If the ex is deceased, divorced-spouse survivor benefits are negated only if the remarriage took place before age 60.

Does the spouse have to wait for the ex-husband to file for his benefits?  How will she know if they don’t keep in touch?

If it’s been more than two years since the divorce, your ex-husband does not need to have filed for his own benefit.  However, he does need to be at least age 62 before you can file for your divorced-spouse benefit.

What if the ex-husband remarries?  Can she still get a divorced-spouse benefit off his record?

Yes.  The remarriage of the worker on whose record the divorced-spouse benefit is based is irrelevant.  So, if the ex-husband remarries, it won’t affect her divorced-spouse benefit.

What if the ex-husband divorces his second wife?  Can both ex-wives get divorced-spouse benefits?  What if he remarries again?

There’s no limit to the number of ex-spouses who can receive benefits off a worker’s record, as long as each marriage lasted at least ten years! What a country we live in!  Let’s say John and Jane were married in 1970 and divorced in 1981.  Then John married Jill in 1982 and they were divorced in 1993.  Then John married Julie in 1994 and they divorced in 2005.  Then John married Jackie in 2006 to whom he is still married.  When they each turn 62, all three ex-wives may claim their divorced-spouse benefit off John’s record.  His current wife may also claim her spousal benefit.  None of these payouts will affect John’s own benefit.  And none of the benefits paid to the ex-wives are figured into the maximum family benefit.

As you read through these questions, you may have been surprised at some of the answers! This is why we tell people to assume nothing when it comes to social security. If you need help in this area, please contact us at 815-455-6453. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.