Family couple relationships crisis difficulties

“While it’s not the best idea to expect your benefits alone to support you in retirement (after all, Social Security is only designed to replace around 40% of your pre-retirement income), some retirees have no other option but to depend on their monthly checks to cover the majority of their expenses.”

According to the Social Security Administration, as many as 21% of married couples depend upon their Social Security checks for at least 90% of their retirement income. The same is true for almost half of all single beneficiaries. Therefore, if you are expecting Social Security to make up the larger share of your income during retirement, don’t overlook any possible additional benefits, says the article “Divorced? You could Be Owed Extra Social Security Benefits” from The Motley Fool.

People who have been divorced may have more due them than they expect.

A married person may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on their spouse’s work record, even if they themselves have never worked. However, divorced people are sometimes entitled to benefits based on their ex-spouse’s records, depending upon their situation.

There are a few eligibility requirements. For starters, the marriage must have lasted at least ten years. Second, you can’t have remarried—although if your ex has remarried, this won’t affect your ability to claim based on their record. Finally, the amount received in benefits based on your own work history must be less than the amount that you’d receive in divorce benefits, based on your spouse’s record.

You’ll also need to be at least 62 to start claiming benefits, and in most cases, your ex needs to have started taking benefits before you can receive monthly benefits. There is an exception: you have been divorced for at least 24 continuous months and your spouse is eligible to receive benefits, but just hasn’t started claiming them yet.

Note that you won’t receive the full benefit amount for regular Social Security benefits or those based on your ex’s work history until you claim at your full retirement age (FRA), which is 66, 66 plus a few months or 67, depending upon your birth year. Claim earlier than that, and benefit checks will be smaller, as they would be if you were claiming your own benefits before FRA.

If you are indeed eligible to collect divorce benefits, you may be able to collect additional benefits based on the ex-spouse’s record on top of your own benefits. You won’t get both. However, what you may get is your own benefits, plus a portion—up to 50%—of the amount your ex-spouse is eligible for, if you claim at his or her FRA.

Let’s say you’re receiving $800 a month based on your work record at your FRA. Your ex is eligible to receive $2,000 at her FRA. If you meet all the right requirements, you could collect 50% of her benefits in addition to yours. You could receive $1,000 a month: your $800 and an additional $200 in divorce benefits.

Bear in mind that Social Security is a big government organization, and likely will not make this type of adjustment on your behalf. You’ll have to advocate for yourself, filing for the benefits you believe you deserve and you may need to make more than a few phone calls. However, the additional income would be well worth it.

Reference: The Motley Fool (Jan. 30, 2020) “Divorced? You could Be Owed Extra Social Security Benefits

For more information on elder law, retirement planning and estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.