Retirement Planning: Social Security
Rules for Divorced-Spouse Benefits
Rules for Divorced-Spouse Benefits
In order to qualify for a divorced-spouse benefit a person must:
- Be finally divorced from the worker on whose record benefits are being claimed
- Have been married for over 10 years
- Be currently unmarried
- Be at least age 62
Here are some facts about divorce benefits with examples.
The worker on whose record the benefit is being claimed must be at least age 62. If the divorce occurred more than two years prior, the worker does not need to have filed for his or her own retirement benefit.
- Example: Michael and Maria were married over 10 years. They have been divorced over two years. Both are age 62. Maria has not remarried. Maria is eligible for a divorced-spouse benefit based on Michael’s work record, regardless of whether or not Michael has filed for his benefit.
If the divorced-spouse benefit is claimed at full retirement age or later, it will be 50% of the worker’s primary insurance amount (PIA).
- Example: Jim and Judy are divorced. Jim’s PIA is $3,200. Judy does not qualify for a benefit on her own record. Judy files for her divorced-spouse benefit at her FRA. She will receive 50% of Jim’s PIA, or $1,360, as her divorced-spouse benefit.
If the divorced person also qualifies for a benefit on her own work record, she will be paid her own benefit first. If her PIA is less than half of his PIA, she will receive that difference in addition to her own benefit.
- Example: Tom and Trudy are divorced. Tom’s PIA is $3,200. Trudy’s PIA is $800. Trudy files at her FRA. She will receive her own benefit of $800 plus the difference between her PIA and one-half of Tom’s PIA ($3,200 ÷ 2=$1,600 – $800=$800) for a total benefit of $1,600 ($800 + $800). If Trudy had claimed prior to FRA, both her own benefit and the spousal add-on would be reduced for early claiming.
A person who has been divorced twice can choose the higher of the two divorced-spouse benefits, as long as each marriage lasted at least ten years and the applicant is currently unmarried. But remember, if she also qualifies for a benefit on her own work record she must take that benefit first. And if she has been divorced less than two years, the ex must have filed for his benefit.
- Example: Susan was married to Sam for 20 years. She was married to Steve for 12 years. Susan is now single and it has been more than two years since her divorce from Steve. Sam’s PIA is $3,200. Steve’s PIA is $3,000. Susan does not qualify for a benefit on her own record. She is FRA. When she files, she can choose to receive half of Sam’s PIA since it is higher than Steve’s.
If the person applying for the divorced-spouse benefit worked in a non-Social Security covered job, the divorced-spouse benefit will be reduced by two-thirds of the amount of her pension under the Government Pension Offset. This will likely reduce it to zero.
- Example: Greta worked as a teacher in Texas, where she did not pay into Social Security. She is currently receiving a pension of $3,000 per month. She is divorced from George, to whom she was married more than ten years. George’s PIA is $2,800. Greta’s divorced-spouse benefit of $1,400 would be reduced by $2,000 (2/3 of $3,000), which reduces the benefit to zero. If George dies, Greta will become eligible for a divorced-spouse survivor benefit. After the GPO reduction she will receive $800 ($2,800 – $2,000=$800).
If a couple has married, divorced, remarried, and divorced again, the two marriages can be added together (including the time in between) for the purpose of determining the ten years, providing the remarriage occurred before the end of the calendar year following the divorce.
- Example: Peter and Paula were married from June 2001 to September 2008 (7 years). They remarried in December 2009 and divorced in November 2012 (3 years). They meet the 10-year requirement because the remarriage took place before the end of the calendar year following the first divorce.
Here are some additional facts:
The ex-spouse’s marital status is not relevant for a divorced person claiming benefits off an ex-spouse’s record. If the ex-spouse has remarried, both the divorced spouse and the current spouse may receive spousal benefits off the ex’s record (or survivor benefits if he dies).
Like spousal benefits, divorced-spouse benefits are based on the worker’s PIA. The age at which the worker claimed his benefit is not relevant. That is, the divorced-spouse benefit will be the same regardless of whether the worker’s own benefit is reduced for early claiming or includes delayed credits for claiming after FRA. Also like spousal benefits, if the worker is subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision because he is receiving a pension from a job not covered by Social Security, the divorced-spouse benefit will be based on the WEP-adjusted PIA.
If a person receiving divorced-spouse benefits remarries, the person must notify SSA and the divorced-spouse benefits will stop. The exception is if the new spouse is also receiving divorced-spouse or survivor benefits, in which case both benefits may continue. Also, the one-year marriage requirement is waived if a person receiving divorced-spouse benefits remarries: she may immediately switch to the spousal benefit off her new husband.
Remember the rule on remarriage: If the ex-spouse is still alive, remarriage at any age will stop entitlement to divorced-spouse benefits. If the ex-spouse is deceased, divorced-spouse survivor benefits may be paid if remarriage took place after age 60. If the remarriage took place before age 60, no divorced-spouse survivor benefits may be paid unless that marriage ends.
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