Will Social Security Benefits Be Reduced if an Ex-Spouse Draws on the Benefits?
The federal government is generous in several respects when it comes to Social Security benefits. Under some circumstances, your spouse can collect on your work history when she reaches retirement age even if you divorce. This doesn't affect your own benefits in any way – you'll still receive the full amount you're entitled to. Some qualifying rules apply, however.
In the event that an ex-spouse draws on your Social Security benefits, your benefits will not be affected.
Duration of the Marriage
A marriage must last a minimum of 10 years before one spouse can collect on the basis of the other's benefits after a divorce. The cutoff date is the date your divorce is final, not when the paperwork is initially filed. If the earning spouse is of retirement age and is eligible for benefits but hasn't applied for them yet, spouses must be divorced for at least two years before the other can collect on his Social Security benefits. An exception exists if the ex-spouse is caring for the couple's child who is either disabled or younger than 16 and is also collecting Social Security benefits.
The Effect of Remarriage
If your ex collects Social Security based on your work record, your remarriage doesn't affect this in any way. Your ex will continue to receive benefits and your current spouse can also collect on your work record even if the two of you later divorce but were married a minimum of 10 years. An additional spouse's benefits don't diminish or extinguish any other claim.
Your ex can't remarry, however. Her benefits stop if she does unless and until her subsequent marriage ends by death, divorce or annulment.
With one exception, an ex-spouse isn't eligible for Social Security benefits until age 62 – either her own or anyone else's. If she cares for the couple's child who's either disabled or younger than 16 and collecting benefits, she does not have to wait until retirement age to apply for her ex-spouse's benefits.
Otherwise, at age 62, she can collect based on her ex's benefits rather than her own work history, provided her ex's benefits are more. By putting off collecting her own benefits for a few years, the amount of those payments will increase. She's free to switch back to her own benefits if they later amount to more than the payments she receives on her ex's work record. If she does switch back, it won't result in additional benefits to her ex. His benefits remain unaffected, just as they were when she began collecting on his work record in the first place.
Your ex doesn't receive the same amount of Social Security benefits as you do. She's only entitled to 50 percent of your benefits, and that's if she does not begin collecting until full retirement age. For example, if your benefits are $1,300 a month, she gets $650 a month. If she begins collecting at age 62, the percentage is less. She can't collect based on your benefits at all if hers are more.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She specializes in personal finance and w, bankruptcy, and she writes as the tax expert for The Balance.