As couples reach the age of 62 they begin the process of determining whether to take early retirement or wait until they reach full retirement age (66 or 67, depending on the year of birth) or to defer the benefits until reaching age 70, thereby getting an increased distribution of eight percent (8%) per year. This article will not discuss the various computations regarding when to begin collecting social security, whether you should collect based upon your own work history, your spouse’s work history or to begin collecting on the former and eventually switching to the latter. This article will limit references to the benefits that are distributed as they affect two people who are getting a divorce or are now divorced.
Assume Husband and Wife went through a divorce. Husband’s work history allows Wife a larger social security benefit than if she collected under her own work history. For Wife to qualify for benefits under Husband’s work history while he is still alive she must meet the following criteria (refer to www.ssa.gov):
In addition to the foregoing, if Husband has not applied for retirement benefits, Wife may still be able to qualify for social security under Husband’s work history if the two of them have been divorced for at least two years.
If Wife remarries and she is over 60-years-old she can continue to collect benefits under her former spouse unless the spouse from the current marriage has an earnings history that will provide a higher benefit. Then Wife will receive the higher amount. Wife cannot collect from more than one source, but it should be from the highest. If Wife stopped collecting from her former husband when she remarried and the second marriage ends by death, divorce or annulment, Wife may then revert to collecting under the former deceased spouse’s earnings record if it will provide a higher benefit.
Having looked at Wife what about Husband? If he remarries and Wife remains single, her benefit will remain unchanged. If Wife was collecting under the work history of her former spouse, the benefit will continue regardless of whether Husband gets remarried. If Husband predeceases his second wife then both spouses can collect as widows.
Other rules exist for a surviving ex-spouse who is caring for a disabled child or where the ex-spouse is disabled. These are topics for future articles.