Ex-s With Benefits:
Collecting social security benefits after a Minnesota divorce
Did you know that if you are divorced, you may be able to collect social security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s payment record? You can be ex’s with benefits—of the financial kind. To make things even better (or worse, depending on the friendliness of your relationship with your ex), if you collect benefits based on your ex’s record, this does not reduce the amount of benefits that your ex receives.
Before I cover what is required to get social security benefits, it’s important that you understand this. Many people take a look at this and their eyes glaze over and they hit the back button on their browser. I would urge you NOT to do that because (far too) many divorce lawyers in Minnesota are not familiar with social security and what is required to get SS benefits.
Here we go, to be able to collect these benefits from your ex-spouse’s employment record, you’ll have to meet the following preliminary conditions:
- Your marriage lasted 10 years or longer (note this is is the date of marriage, until the Judge signs the order dissolving your marriage, not the date you move out)
- You are now unmarried (although your ex can be remarried);
- You are age 62 or older;
A note on remarriage: if you remarry, that makes you ineligible to receive benefits on your ex’s record, but only while you are actually remarried. If your later marriage ends, whether due to divorce or death, you will become eligible again!
Additionally, there are other conditions based on the benefits you would otherwise be entitled to and the amount of those benefits. First, your ex must of course be entitled to social security benefits. Second, the social security benefit that you would have received based on your own work must be less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex’s work. The reason is fairly simple, this law is designed for the homemaker or the person with considerably lower income who helped the primary breadwinner earn all that money and to ensure that they are not left out in the cold and eating cat food!
So, your ex has figured this out and is dragging his feet in applying for retirement benefits simply because he doesn’t want you to be able to collect based on his benefits. This doesn’t matter—if your ex is qualified for benefits, you can receive benefits based on his record even if he hasn’t yet applied, as long as you have been divorced for at least two years.
Your benefit as a divorced spouse is equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount (or disability benefit) if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement age.
You can apply for payment on your ex’s record using the online tool at the Social Security Administration website. You will be able to elect whether to receive your ex-spouse’s benefit or your own retirement benefit. If you want, you can choose to first receive only the benefits based on your ex’s record, with benefits on your own record coming later. This can be beneficial to you because the delay in receiving your retirement credits may make those credits increase. We recommend you talk to your lawyer or financial planner about what’s best for your situation before you decide what to do.
One last tip, most divorce lawyers (including myself) know enough about social security to be dangerous, we typically leave Social Security to the experts, so you be aware and ask how much your divorce lawyer knows about social security benefits.
Rosengren Kohlmeyer, Law Office Chtd.