Social Security can provide an essential income in retirement. But you need to know the rules for how these benefits work so that you can maximize the money they offer. This is especially important if you are married or divorced, as special arrangements may affect your entitlement to different types of benefits.
If you’ve ended a marriage, here are three Social Security rules you should know to make the most informed choices about claiming benefits from the Social Security Administration.
1. Spouse and survivor benefits are available if the marriage has lasted at least 10 years
Spouse or survivor benefits can be an alternative to your own Social Security retirement benefits.
In some cases, if your spouse was a higher earner, you could get more money from them than you would based on your own work record. And if your spouse dies, survivor benefits may become available to you at a much earlier age than your own retirement benefits.
You can assume that in the event of a divorce you will miss out on the chance of partner or survivor’s benefits. However, that is not always the case. If your marriage has lasted at least 10 years, it is generally still possible to claim them. However, the Social Security Administration won’t always let you know, so it’s important to do your own research about what benefits you want to claim to maximize your Social Security income.
2. You don’t have to wait for your ex to claim Social Security to get partner benefits if you’ve been divorced for at least two years
If you are still married, you cannot apply for spousal maintenance until your spouse has received his or her own checks. So, for example, if you want to receive partner benefits based on your husband’s work history, you’ll have to wait until your husband has claimed his pension. However, you can own interim payments, if you were eligible for them.
If you are divorced, but still qualify for spousal support based on the length of your marriage, you don’t have to worry about this rule. As long as your divorce took place at least two years ago, you can make a decision about claiming spousal maintenance completely independently of the choices your ex makes. That means, if you want to start your partner benefits based on an ex-husband’s work record, but your ex still hasn’t filed for retirement benefits of his own, you won’t be affected at all.
On the other hand, if your ex is going to claim benefits on your employment history after a divorce, you cannot prevent them from doing so by deferring your own claim. In fact, you have absolutely no control over the amount of partner benefits your ex gets. However, the good news is that their claim won’t change the number of benefits either you nor will they prevent your current spouse from receiving spousal support if they want it.
3. Remarriage can affect the right to partner or survivor’s benefits
If you plan to claim partner benefits based on an ex’s work record, you cannot remarry or you will no longer be eligible for them. You would instead be eligible for partner benefits based on your new husband or wife’s employment history. And if you plan to claim survivor benefits after your ex dies, you won’t be able to remarry before age 60 (or age 50 if you’re disabled) or you’ll be ineligible.
Understanding these rules can help you decide what benefits to claim, when to claim them, and when — or if — you should consider remarrying. If you want to maximize your Social Security income, research the rules carefully so that you can make the best choice for you.