retirement

Divorce needn't separate you from benefits

Don TaylorDear Dr. Don,
I am a twice-divorced woman. Am I eligible to collect on my ex-husbands' Social Security benefits? I, too, have worked, but I never earned anything near what either of my former spouses earned. Looking back on the time, I was married in both cases for more than 15 years each. Can I collect benefits of either of them, or must it be the most recent marriage?

Thanks,
-- Toni Tripartite

Dear Toni,
Serial monogamy isn't the path to retirement riches. You can't collect on both your ex-husbands' Social Security benefits just because you were married to both of them for more than 10 years.

You can target the ex with the better wage record to claim your spousal benefit as a divorced spouse. Here's how the Social Security Administration presents it on its website: "If your divorced spouse remarries, he or she generally cannot collect benefits on your record unless their later marriage ends (whether by death, divorce or annulment)."

If your ex has not applied for retirement benefits, but he can qualify for them, you can receive benefits based on his record if you have been divorced for at least two years and you're age 62 or older.

In certain cases, you can file first on one account and then later file on the other ex-spouse's account. This could be useful if you filed for benefits before your full retirement age. Check with your local Social Security office to determine if this option is available to you.

In a case where your former husband has passed away, meaning you are the surviving divorced spouse, you would qualify for survivors benefits. You would be able to continue receiving the payments even if you were to remarry after age 60, or age 50 if disabled.

Thanks to Edward Lafferty, spokesman at the Social Security Administration, for his help with this reply.

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