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Ask the Retirement Expert: If I’m Divorced, Can I Claim My Ex’s Social Security?

Angela DiCastri, MBA, CLU® •  October 9, 2015 | Enjoying Retirement, Ask the Expert

Each week our Northwestern Mutual retirement experts answer your questions. This week’s question:

If I’m divorced, can I claim my ex’s Social Security?

By Angela DiCastri, MBA, CLU®

Angela is the Director, Retirement Market, Planning and Sales. Under her leadership, the department is responsible for the growth and development of the retirement market, sales and adoption strategies, and the execution of plans that align with both the markets needs and the Company’s product development efforts.

The question hinges on how long you were married and if you are still unmarried.

If you made it to your 10th anniversary and you are currently unmarried, then yes, you can claim social security benefits from your ex’s record even if they have remarried. And, you don’t need to wait for them to apply for benefits. As long as you have been divorced for 2 years, as soon as they become eligible for Social Security benefits, (they turn 62 years old), you can claim your spousal benefit as long as you are also 62.

At this point, you can file for your spousal benefit off of your ex-spouse’s record. Based on legislation signed into law on November 2, 2015, for people who have not turned 62 by the end of 2015, Social Security will consider this a "deemed filing." That means if you are entitled to both your benefit and your ex-spouse's benefit you will automatically get whichever benefit is higher.

If you have turned 62 by the end of 2015 and you file for your spousal benefit early, this works the same. But if you are in this age group, and you wait to your full retirement age (66 or 67, depending on when you were born) to file for your spousal benefit, you have more options. If the spousal benefit is lower than your own benefit, you can apply for the lower spousal benefit, and allow your own benefit to grow and earn delayed retirement credits. Later, you can switch to your own, higher benefit amount. In this way, you can receive some benefits currently and take full advantage of the delayed retirement credits on your own benefit.

Also, if your ex-spouse is dead, now you can claim widow’s benefits which are higher than spousal benefits.

There are a number of strategies available to you. You really need to run the numbers using a variety of strategies to see what makes the most sense or work with a financial advisor who can help you evaluate the various claiming ages and strategies to maximize your benefit.

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*Note: This article was updated based on legislation signed into law on November 2, 2015.

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