A recent email raised a question that will surely concern many: How do I get social security benefits from my ex-spouse's income statement? And how do I find out how much I am entitled to from the ex?
The spouse's allowance is an important part of the social security pension benefits. Spouses who receive a lower benefit in the course of their life due to lower income can receive spousal allowance.
Often times there is a division of labor between married couples where one works full time throughout their career and the other either works at home, maybe looking after children, or works part-time or sporadically outside the home or their working years. This situation can result in one member of the couple having a much higher lifetime income than the other, which then results in a much higher Social Security benefit than the member of the couple with the lower income.
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If there are significant differences between the two proofs of income, social insurance offers the spouse with lower income the option of increasing their benefits up to a maximum of 50% of the full retirement pension of the spouse with the higher earnings record. If the couple are still married, it is a very straightforward process – and relatively easy to determine the amount of possible spousal allowance for planning purposes.
However, with a divorced couple (whom I'll call Ann and David in our example), this can be a little more complicated.
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First, we need to clarify which requirements must be met in order for Ann. As with all social security benefits, Ann must be at least 62 years old. Ann's ex-spouse (David) must also be at least 62 years old and be eligible for an old-age pension based on his income statement. In addition, Ann must not be eligible for an old-age pension that is greater than 50% of David's old-age pension. These requirements are no different from a married couple, but that's where the similarities end.
(Please note that although I have used a female first name for the low earner and a male first name for the higher earner, the gender roles could be reversed and the entitlement situation would be the same. In addition, same-sex couples are treated exactly the same as for couples of different sexes in Reference to these examples.)
In addition to the above requirements, Ann and David's marriage must have lasted at least 10 years prior to the divorce. Even a day less than 10 years old will preclude Ann from receiving spousal benefits. In addition, Ann must be unmarried at the time of applying for (and while receiving) the spouse's allowance. Subsequent marriages would have occurred after the divorce as well, but in order to receive spousal allowance based on David's income, she must be and remain unmarried at the time of her application.
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If Ann's divorce from David was more than two years ago, Ann is immediately entitled to spousal allowance based on David's records, provided that all of the above requirements are met. If it has been less than two years since the divorce was finalized, Ann is not entitled to the spouse's allowance until one of two things has occurred: either 1) the two years have passed, or 2) David applies for his own Social Security Pension.
As you can see, the eligibility requirements for divorced people are more complicated than for married couples. The procedure for claiming benefits is similar with a few changes.
In the case of a married couple, the application for spousal allowance is made in one of three ways – online (via SocialSecurity.gov), by telephone (toll-free at 1-800-772-1213) or in person at the local social welfare office. When you apply for retirement benefits, your existing spouse's allowance is also automatically applied for.
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It can get a lot more complicated with Ann. Most likely, she will need to apply to a local office over the phone or in person as the online process is unlikely to suit her needs. She must provide a copy of a marriage certificate and a divorce decree to prove that she is entitled to the spouse's allowance. She should also provide David's social security number (if she has one).
If she doesn't have his Social Security number, Ann should be willing to provide as much information about David as possible, including his full name, date of birth, last known address, parents' names, and other potentially pertinent information in order to identify him. As you can imagine, the social security number is the best and fastest way to identify the ex-spouse. Without the social security number, there may be delays in proving identification.
With this information and after verifying her identity, Ann can complete her application for spousal benefit based on David's file. David will not be aware of Ann's request, and it will have no effect on his performance or any other benefit based on David's records.
The answer to the second part of the question is similar. To find out what spousal benefits Ann may have, it is necessary to identify David and provide evidence (with documents) that Ann has been married to David for at least 10 years and that they are divorced. Once this identification is complete, social security staff can provide information about the spouse benefits available in person or by telephone.
Generally speaking, when you talk to Social Security staff, you get a question about benefit amounts based solely on how much you could get today. Delaying the application for benefits by just a few months can in most cases lead to a higher benefit amount. In addition, if you are still working, you will have to forego part of your performance depending on your earnings. But those are topics for another time.
Reader, do you have a question about social security? Email us at HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com.