Dear Dr. Don,
I divorced a few years ago after just more than 10 years of marriage. My ex-wife has threatened that she will take half of my Social Security retirement benefits when she turns 62 if she hasn't remarried by then.
She said I would then only get half of my Social Security retirement benefits. I thought my retirement benefits would not be affected whether she applies for retirement benefits under my account or not. Can you please clarify?
-- Jim Jumbled
She'll be entitled to those benefits, but it doesn't impact the amount you receive when you apply for your benefits in retirement. It's an empty threat.
The Social Security Administration website's FAQ page, "Qualifying for divorced spouse benefits," tells you what you need to know when it states, "the benefits paid to a divorced spouse or a surviving divorced spouse will not affect the benefit amount paid to other family members who receive benefits on the same record."
A separate FAQ, "Benefit amounts for divorced spouses," provides more detail. "In order to get benefits, a divorced spouse must be at least age 62 and the former spouse must be eligible for benefits, but not necessarily receiving them. The maximum benefit is 50 percent of the benefit the worker would receive at full retirement age. However, benefits paid before the full retirement age of the spouse are reduced based upon the age of the spouse at the time benefits are received."
I'm not one to stir the pot, but you can gain some satisfaction in knowing that she gets a haircut on those spousal benefits if she claims them before her full retirement age.
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