The maximum benefits you will receive as a divorcee is equal to 50 percent of your ex-spouse’s primary insurance amount, assuming you collect benefits at your full retirement age or later. If you collect early, the benefits will be reduced accordingly.
In very simple terms, you will receive the same benefits as you would if you were still married.
Qualifications for divorced spousal benefits include:
- You need to be single.
- You must both be at least 62 years old.
- You must have been married 10 consecutive years (Social Security considers this time frame an Economic Union). If you divorce after less than 10 years of marriage and you remarry before the end of the year following the year of your divorce, the period of time between marriages counts toward the 10-year marriage requirement.
- If you are divorced more than two years, your ex-spouse only has to be eligible in order for you to collect benefits.
- If you are divorced less than two years, your ex-spouse must be collecting benefits for you to collect.
- If you remarry, you cannot collect benefits from your ex-spouse.
- If you have divorced more than once and both marriages meet the criteria, you can collect benefits of the highest earning spouse.
- Ex-spouse benefits do not affect worker benefits or current spousal benefits.
- Ex-spouse benefits are not counted towards the family maximum.
- A divorced spouse can still receive spousal benefits even if an ex-spouse voluntarily suspends benefits.
- The Annual Earnings Test applies if you have earned income in excess of $16,920 for 2017.
- Deeming rules apply, meaning that if you apply for benefits before your full retirement age, you will be paid your worker benefit first. The spousal benefit will then be layered on top of that.
- Windfall Elimination Provision may apply if you have another government pension.
- Government Pension Offset may apply if you have another government pension.
- Family maximum rules limiting benefits to a family unit do not apply.
Spousal benefits are at their maximum when you reach your full retirement age, so there is no advantage to be gained by deferring collection past it.
If you turned 62 years old before Dec. 31, 2015, you have the option of filing a “restricted application” for spousal benefits only. This allows a spouse who has attained full retirement age – and who also is eligible for their own retirement benefits – to collect spousal benefits only, while deferring their own benefits to earn delayed retirement credits.
It’s important to plan how you will apply for these benefits. Many ex-spouses do not even know they are eligible for this benefit. Careful planning is a must.