Liz Weston: Did my Social Security representative give me incorrect information about divorce benefits?

Dear Liz: You recently replied to a woman about collecting her ex-husband’s Social Security file. You said she was eligible for a partner’s benefit if they had been married for at least 10 years, whichever they were. I think you should have added that the spouse has to collect their own Social Security when you apply.

A Social Security representative told me to wait for my ex to retire and then I would automatically get the bigger benefit. I waited. Finally I asked my ex and he said he started collecting Social Security a few months earlier. I applied and did receive a retroactive payout.

Answers: Unfortunately, people don’t always get the right information from Social Security representatives.

You didn’t have to wait for your ex to get Social Security to file for divorce. While that’s a requirement for still-married couples — the primary worker must apply for their own benefit to receive a spousal benefit — a divorced spouse only needs to wait until their ex turns 62 and qualify for Social Security retirement checks. security.

The rep you spoke to may not have understood that you were talking about an ex rather than a current spouse, or the rep may have been confused about the rules.

Because Social Security can be so complicated, it makes sense to educate yourself about the rules as much as possible. Books such as “Social Security for Dummies” by Jonathan Peterson can be helpful; make sure you get the latest edition as the rules for partner benefits have changed significantly in 2015.

Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for: NerdWallet. Inquiries can be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact Us” form at

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