Can an Ex-Wife Claim My Social Security Benefit?

by Rod Howell

    In 2011, more than 6 million spouses and parents, including ex-spouses, got Social Security benefits from their current or former husband or wives’ work records. If you qualify for Social Security retirement, disability or survivors benefits, your ex-wife can get benefits if she meets the Social Security Administration’s eligibility requirements. She would get monthly benefits on a tax-free basis just like you. Her benefits won’t affect how much you get, though.

    Your ex-wife qualifies for Social Security retirement and disability benefits if she was married to you for 10 years before the divorce and is unmarried when she files for benefits. She’s also eligible if she isn’t entitled to retirement or disability benefits that are higher on her record. Your ex-wife must be at least 62 years old, but if she is taking care of your disabled or minor children, she qualifies for your benefits at any age.

    The requirement for your ex-wife to get Social Security survivors benefits has a few differences. She generally had to be married to you for 10 years before the divorce to qualify and has to be at least 60 years old. If she is caring for your disabled or minor children, she doesn’t have to satisfy the marriage rule and can be any age and get benefits.

    The SSA pays the same amount in benefits to your ex-wife as a current wife would get. She would get one-half of your Social Security disability and retirement benefits. Her retirement benefits are permanently reduced if she gets them before reaching full retirement age, which is based on her year of birth. Her survivors benefits are determined differently. The SSA would pay her 100 percent of your entitled benefit amount in survivors benefits if she is at full retirement age. Full retirement age for retirement and survivors benefits are different, though. If she is between age 60 and full retirement age, she gets 71.5 to 99 percent of your entitled benefit. She can get 71.5 percent if she is between 50 and 59 and disabled. If she’s taking care of your minor or disabled children, she gets 75 percent.

    Generally the amount your ex-wife gets in benefits doesn’t affect your current family’s benefits. Under the survivors program, though, if she is caring for your children, her amount is included in the total family benefit. If the total amount of the family benefit exceeds 150 to 180 percent of your entitled amount, every person’s check is reduced proportionately. Also under the survivors program, your ex-wife can get benefits on your record if she has remarried. She must be at least 60 years old or 50 and disabled to remarry and still get survivors benefits. Her disability must meet the SSA’s adult definition of disability and occurred before or within seven years of your death. If you’re eligible for retirement benefits but aren’t collecting, she doesn’t have to wait. She can get her entitled benefits if the divorce happened more than two years before.

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    About the Author

    Rod Howell is a writer living in Charlotte, N.C. He graduated from Thaddeus Stevens College with an associate degree in administration in 2000. He published the book "Capitol Conspiracy" and regularly contributes to a blog as well as various other websites, drawing frequently from his experience as an insurance agent.

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