More older Americans are getting divorced today and will more than likely be informed by their lawyer or accountant on how the divorce will affect their Social Security benefits. However, those people who divorced years ago, may not realize this and as a result, may be receiving less benefits than they are entitled.
Social Security rules apply to both genders, but because the majority of women typically have earned less over their lives than men, they are more likely to be collecting lower benefits than they might be eligible for based on the earning history of their former spouse.
With Social Security, retired people can either collect benefits based on their own earning history, or 50% of their spouse or former spouse’s benefit if it is greater than their own. If the spouse is deceased, then the person can collect 100% of his or her spouse or former spouse’s benefits.
Of course, there are certain rules that pertain to collecting a former spouse’s benefits. The marriage to a former spouse must have lasted ten years or more and the person seeking the benefits must currently be unmarried, or married after the age of sixty. Even if a former spouse remarried, a ex-wife or ex-husband can still seek the benefits, as it will not affect what the current spouse will receive.
There are more options available for those people who have not yet reached full retirement age, 65 or 66, depending on their birth date. If the former spouse is 62 years or older, regardless or not if he or she has begun to collect Social Security benefits, the person seeking benefits can begin to receive a reduced benefit based on the former spouse’s earning record, provided the divorce took place at least two years prior. If more beneficial, the seeker later on can switch to his own benefits.
If a former spouse is deceased, then a benefit seeker can begin collecting a reduced widow(er)/divorced benefit at age 60, and has the option later on to switch to his own benefit at full retirement age, if the amount is greater.
It would be beneficial for family members who are assisting with the finances of elderly parents that have been divorced to request a Social Security benefits review on the behalf of their parent to find out if the parent may be eligible for an increase in benefits based on their former spouse’s earning history.