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Benefits for divorcees
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My wife is starting to get suspicious. Every day, my inbox is crammed with emails from strange women around the country! I don’t mean strange as in unusual, but rather as in unfamiliar to me. A good percentage of these women are asking about potential benefits they are due as a wife or widow on an ex-husband’s Social Security record. So today, let’s concentrate on benefits due divorced women. By the way, the same benefits would be due to dependent divorced husbands. It’s just that all my emails come from divorced women, so I am addressing their concerns.

Q: I am 60 years old. I have only worked sparingly throughout my life and will get a very small Social Security check. I was counting on sharing in my husband’s much larger check. But suddenly, after 39 years of marriage, he has decided he wants a change. He’s moved in with another woman. He wants a divorce, but I don’t want to give it to him because I don’t want this other woman getting all of his Social Security and leaving me with nothing. He is 61 and is still working and I don’t think he will retire until he’s 70. What can I do?

A: The best thing you can do, at least from a Social Security perspective, is divorce this man. And that’s because the rules provide a bit of a break to a divorced woman. I’ll explain.

As long as you are married to him, the law says you can’t get any spousal benefits on his record until he applies for his own benefits. And if he plans to hold off until age 70 to do that, you’ve got a long financial dry spell ahead of you.

But another law says a divorced woman can get benefits from her ex’s Social Security even if he hasn’t applied for benefits himself. He merely has to be old enough for Social Security, which means age 62. 

And yet another rule says you can’t get benefits from your ex until you’ve been divorced for two years.

But all this should work out for you. You are age 60 and your husband is 61. So In two years, you’ll both be over age 62. In other words, if you get that divorce soon, you’ll be able to claim benefits on his record (only to the extent that they exceed what you are getting on your own) even though he might not file for his benefits until years later.

Q: I am 66 years old. I’ve been married to my husband for only 5 years. He was married before for almost 30 years to a wonderful woman who is actually a friend of mine. Our accountant said I should file for wife’s benefits from my husband’s Social Security. But I don’t want to do anything that will hurt his ex-wife who is already getting benefits on his account. First of all, am I due any of my husband’s Social Security even though we haven’t been married 10 years? And second, if I file, will that reduce what his ex-wife is already getting?

A: I’ll answer your second question first. If you are due spousal benefits, it will not take a nickel away from what your husband’s first wife is already receiving. Or to put that another way, two (or more) spouses on one Social Security record do not offset one another. You each will get whatever you are due regardless of what the other person is getting.

The 10-year duration of marriage rule you alluded to only applies to benefits for divorcees. There is a 9-month rule for currently married women, and you are well beyond that. Whether or not you are due anything on your husband’s account depends on factors you didn’t tell me. For example, you didn’t say if you have your own Social Security or some other retirement benefit. If you do, it will offset any spousal benefits you are due. The only way to find out for sure if you are due anything is to call Social Security at 800-772-1213,

Q: I am 69 years old, and I am getting my own Social Security benefit of $1,770 per month. My husband and I were married for 22 years, but we have been divorced for almost 20 years. I have essentially lost all touch with my ex. I do know where he lives. But that’s about it. I have no idea if he has remarried. I never have. Friends tell me I might be due some Social Security on his record. He was a doctor and always made really good money, so I’m sure he has a very big Social Security check. How should I handle this?

A: I take it from your email that you know your ex is still living. And as long as he is alive, you aren’t due anything on his Social Security account. Even if he is getting the maximum Social Security check, currently around $2,700, your 50 percent spousal share of that, or $1,350, is less than you’re already getting from your own retirement account. That means there is no spousal support you are currently due.

But when he dies, it’s a different story. Then your benefit can be supplemented up to 100 percent of his. So I suggest you start reading the online version of the newspaper in the city where he lives. Pay particular attention to the obituaries!

Q: I get a smallish Social Security check. My ex-husband, to whom I was married for 28 years, gets much more than I do. I think I am due some extra benefits on his account. When I ask the Social Security people how much he is getting, they won’t tell me. But they do say I’m not due anything on his account. I’m convinced they are misleading me. What can I do?

A: First of all, it would be a breach of privacy laws for them to reveal how much money your ex-husband is getting from Social Security. Second, I can’t imagine they are misleading you. They would have no motive for doing so. But third, if you don’t believe them, you have every right in the world to file a claim for divorced wife’s benefits. So do it! Then you will either start getting spousal benefits, or you will get a legal decision telling you that you aren’t eligible. In that case, you, too, will have to start reading the obituaries!