Q&A: Social Security spousal benefits and divorce

Dear Liz: My former husband is 11 years older than I am, and we were married for 15 years.

I am 54 and have never remarried. When I turn 62, can I claim spousal benefits based on his work record because he will be past full retirement age? Or do I have to be at my own full retirement age of 67 before I can claim the divorced benefit?

I was thinking that I could start claiming spousal benefits at 62 and then wait until I am 70 (letting my benefit grow). At that point, we can see which benefit is larger — half of his benefit or my full benefit. He has made much more money than I have through the years, but he has also been unemployed off and on while I have been employed consistently.

Answer: You can claim divorced spousal benefits as early as age 62 long as you remain unmarried and your marriage lasted at least 10 years.

But you lose the option to switch from a spousal benefit to your own benefit if you start Social Security before your own full retirement age.

So if your plan is to get the maximum benefit, it’s important to wait until you turn 67 to apply. At that point, you can file a restricted application for spousal benefits only and receive an amount equal to half of your ex’s benefit while letting your own grow a guaranteed 8% each year until age 70, when your benefit maxes out.

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  1. married43yrs. husband deceased 2013. He worked 32 yrs with city. I worked 25yrs. with county. SS let me collect widows benefit for One month untill I received My retirement: In June 2015 SS took widows benefit away, then said I could collect Retirement SS. That is what I’m getting now: $ 278.00. Does this formula sound right?

    • When you get a pension from a job that didn’t pay into Social Security, it limits your ability to collect Social Security survivor (and spousal) benefits. Otherwise, those with non-SS pensions would wind up getting more than people who paid into the system–you’d be getting both the pension and the full survivor benefit, while people who paid into the system would get only the survivor benefit.