March 31, 2015

Social Security and Your Retirement – Part 3: Spousal Benefits & Divorce

144560286When contemplating the pros and cons of getting divorced, I doubt anyone ever puts in the pros column “easier to claim Social Security Spousal Benefits”. Some people may not even realize that they can get Social Security spousal benefits based on their ex-spouse’s work record. Below are some of the basics of claiming spousal benefits after divorce.

Social Security spousal benefits, whether married or divorced, are calculated to be 50% of the spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) at their Full Retirement Age (FRA). That is 50% of the benefit amount the ex-spouse would receive if they applied for benefits sometime after their 66th birthday (currently). In order to be eligible to claim spousal benefits on an ex-spouse’s work record, one has to be over age 62 and so does the ex-spouse. The marriage has to have lasted at least 10 years and one has to be divorced for 2 years. Finally, one cannot have remarried and it doesn’t matter if the ex-spouse has remarried.

The advantage of being divorced and claiming spousal benefits is that the ex-spouse does not need to be receiving benefits. Married couples have to undertake some complicated paperwork machinations if one spouse wants to claim spousal benefits while the other spouse continues to work. A divorced person doesn’t even need to interact with their ex-spouse to claim benefits based on that person’s work record. One has to provide the ex-spouse’s social security number, a marriage certificate and a divorce decree to claim spousal benefits.

The ramifications of claiming spousal benefits prior to your own FRA should be thoroughly understood before applying early. The same reductions in benefits that affect anyone applying for benefits before their FRA also apply to spousal benefits. For example, an ex-spouse claiming spousal benefits as early as possible – age 62, will have their benefit reduced by approximately 25%. Instead of receiving 50% of their ex-spouse’s PIA, they will receive approximately 35% of that benefit.

Another important consequence of applying before one’s own FRA is that social security actually awards benefits based on one’s own work record. If the spousal benefit is greater than one’s own benefit, social security adds the difference to one’s own benefit instead of solely awarding spousal benefits. There is a misconception that one can claim spousal benefits prior to their FRA, let their own benefits continue to grow and switch to their own benefit later. Since social security is actually awarding one’s own benefit for a claim prior FRA, this strategy not possible.

The good news is that one can do the switching strategy after their FRA. We have helped divorced working women who have reached full retirement age claim spousal benefits based their ex-husband’s work record. They can receive spousal benefits beginning at their FRA until age 70, while their own benefits continue to grow. By delaying claiming their own benefits until age 70, social security automatically increases their benefits 8% for each year they delay past their FRA. Continuing to work may increase their benefit even further.

An additional advantage of waiting to claim benefits until after one’s FRA is that benefits will not be reduced if still working. Anyone claiming benefits prior to their FRA and earning over $15,000 in W-2 income from a job will likely see their benefits reduced. After one’s FRA, one can work without a reduction in benefit and as already mentioned may see their benefit increase.

Social Security is a complex program, so whether divorced or married, it is best to meet with a financial advisor to discuss when to take social security before applying for benefits.

Amy Wolff
AJW Financial, Inc.

Amy Wolff’s clients describe her as a financial educator and coach. She listens to their diverse concerns and guides them through life’s most stressful transitions toward confident financial literacy and independence. By remaining accessible and open to any question, Amy helps clients avoid pitfalls and make decisions today that align well with their plans long-term. Her approach to personalized financial guidance has given countless clients a non-judgmental place to make well-reasoned financial decisions for their futures and their loved ones.

Amy is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® practitioner. Feel free to learn more at

Amy Jensen Wolff, CFP®, CDFA®
3300 Edinborough Way, Suite 550
Edina, MN 55435
Phone: 952-405-2000

Amy Wolff is a Registered Representative offering securities and advisory services through Cetera Advisor Networks LLC, member FINRA/SIPC, a Broker/Dealer and a Registered Investment Advisor. Investment advisory services also offered through AdvisorNet Wealth Management. Cetera is under separate ownership from any other named entity.

Tagged with:

Comments are closed.