Here’s some good news about divorce, for a change. If your marriage lasted at least ten years, you can claim Social Security benefits on the entire earnings history of your ex-spouse. These are known as “derivative benefits,” and they are equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s benefits.
It’s an either-or situation – you can choose to get your own benefits or the derivative benefits of your ex-spouse, whichever is greater. Collecting derivative benefits doesn’t reduce what your ex-spouse receives, or, if he’s remarried, what his current spouse receives.
Now, here are answers to three of the tricky Social Security questions we are often asked by readers:
1. How many ex-wives can claim derivative benefits?
As many exes as there are, as long as each marriage lasted 10 years. Mickey Rooney’s seven ex-wives got left out, since none of the marriages lasted more than 10 years, but three of Johnny Carson’s marriages lasted over 10 years, so all those ex-wives could claim derivative benefits.
2. If my ex-spouse dies, do my derivative Social Security benefits end?
This has a good news, bad news answer. The bad news: If he dies, the derivative benefit ends. The good news is that now you can collect survivor benefits, which are 100% of his benefits, not just 50%.
3. Can I receive both public employee benefits and Social Security?
Under the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), benefits received from a non-Social Security covered job (such as a teacher or other civil service job) may cause Social Security benefits to be reduced somewhat. In addition, the Government Pension Offset (GPO) applies to derivative benefits, which will be reduced by 2/3rds of the pension benefits received by an employee from a job not covered by Social Security.
These rules are subject to change, of course. When you are ready to claim Social Security benefits, be sure to let the Social Security Administration know that you were married for more than ten years, and be prepared to furnish your ex-spouse’s full name and social security number.
They will then calculate what benefits will give you the highest monthly payment, and they will be able to recalculate those benefits if your ex-spouse dies while you are collecting benefits.
For more information visit the page “If You Are Divorced” at the Social Security Administration’s website.
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