Q: In your Social Security guide for women, I think you made a mistake. You said a divorced woman can get Social Security from her ex-husband while he is still living. But I was told by friends, who know these things, that the only way a divorcee can get Social Security is when her ex dies. Do you need to make a correction?
A: You need to go back and correct the “friends who know these things.” Tell them that your ex-husband does not have to be dead in order for you to get any of his Social Security. And if my e-mail inbox is any indication of the public’s knowledge of this issue, then you and your friends are not alone in thinking incorrectly about a divorced woman’s possible eligibility for Social Security from an ex-husband.
Just as some currently married women might be eligible for a wife’s benefit on their alive-and-well husband’s Social Security account, a divorced woman also can qualify for similar benefits from the still-breathing ex — assuming she meets all the eligibility rules. Here are some of those rules:
— A divorced woman must have been married to her ex for at least 10 years.
— She must be currently unmarried (even if she remarried after the divorce, she would still be eligible for benefits if the subsequent marriage has ended).
— She must be at least 62 years old.
— She must not be due higher benefits on her own Social Security record.
There are also a couple rules that apply to the ex-husband. He must be at least 62 years old, meaning he is old enough to qualify for Social Security. But he does not have to be actually getting Social Security benefits. In other words, a divorced wife (unlike a currently married wife) can receive Social Security from her ex, even if he isn’t receiving Social Security himself. That rule was put in place to prevent a man from not claiming Social Security benefits just to keep his ex-wife from drawing anything on his account. Amazingly, these kinds of shenanigans actually used to happen. (I guess more than a few couples end their marriages very bitterly — and that bitterness carried over to attempts to get revenge by trying to withhold Social Security benefits.)
Another part of the eligibility rules concerning the ex pleasantly surprises many divorced women. And that is the fact that it doesn’t matter if the ex has remarried. A divorced woman claims her benefits from the ex-husband independently of any other activity on his account. A guy could potentially have two or three women getting benefits on his Social Security record, and each would qualify for full benefits.
Payments to each divorced wife do not offset any other payments made on the account.
And on a related note, here’s a bit of good news for some of the divorced men out there. Anything paid to your ex-wife (or wives) does not reduce your Social Security benefits in any way. I’ve mentioned before that throughout my 32-year career with the Social Security Administration, I ran into many situations where a man had a clause similar to this inserted into his divorce decree: “I don’t want my ex-wife to get a nickel of my Social Security benefits.” That clause isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
One final note: Many women, whose ex is still alive, don’t qualify for Social Security divorced wife’s benefits for the same reason that many currently married women don’t get a regular wife’s benefit from their husband’s account. And that’s because they are often due higher benefits on their own Social Security record. Because the benefit rate payable to a wife (or ex-wife) can only be as high as one-half of the husband’s Social Security — and is frequently as low as one-third (depending on the age at which a woman starts her benefits) — a woman who has worked any decent amount of time outside the home will generally get a Social Security retirement benefit that exceeds any spousal benefits she is due.
In other words, if you’re a working woman, your husband (or ex-husband) usually isn’t worth much to you — from a Social Security perspective. That is while he is alive. But once he dies, and much higher widow’s benefits kick in, he finally can mean real bucks to you.
Q: My ex-husband, to whom I was married for about 15 years, has remarried three times since our divorce. And he’s currently living with yet another woman. Because I never remarried, I know I am eligible for some of his Social Security. But can all these other women get money from him, too?
A: It’s possible but unlikely. If some of those subsequent marriages didn’t last 10 years, the ex-wives involved won’t qualify for benefits. Those women who remarried (and are still married) won’t qualify. If any have worked and earned higher benefits on her own record, she won’t qualify. So again, the chances are pretty slim that all of these women will get benefits on your ex’s Social Security account.
Because of the prevalence of divorces and remarriages, people always say, “No wonder Social Security is going broke. They’re paying all those benefits to so many ex-wives.” But as I tried to illustrate above, benefit payments to multiple divorcees are not as common as people think.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.