If you were married to your ex-spouse for ten or more years, then you are eligible for very important Social Security benefits that could drastically increase how much Social Security you receive each month. Who doesn’t want a bigger Social Security check each month?
No one, that’s right! So keep reading.
Even if you are divorced, you can claim something called derivative benefits based on the earnings history of your ex-husband. Derivative benefits are equal to one half of your ex-husband’s Social Security benefits. So, for example, let’s say that Don receives roughly $3,000 per month in Social Security benefits. His ex-wife, Samantha who was married to Don for 18 years before they divorced in 2010, is eligible to receive $1,500 per month in Social Security benefits ($3,000 / 2 = $1,500) if she waits until full retirement age of 66+ to collect. If she collects between ages 62 and 66, there will be a reduction for taking benefits early.
The amount an individual receives from Social Security is based on their average indexed monthly earnings during the 35 years where they earned the most income. In many cases, especially with older generations, a husband’s income will be greater than that of his ex-wife, and he therefore is entitled to a higher amount of Social Security.
After Samantha married Don, she quickly became pregnant. Over the years, she gave birth to three children. Samantha and Don decided that it made more financial sense for Don to work while Samantha stayed home to raise the children. During their prime working years, Don continued to climb the corporate ladder while Samantha earned no income. After her youngest child left for college, Samantha rejoined the workforce as an administrative assistant, but by the time she was planning to retire, her Social Security benefits were only $900 per month. Clearly, $1,500 in derivative benefits is a much better deal for Samantha than the $900 per month she would receive for her own benefits.
Of course, Samantha or any woman could choose to stick with her own full benefits. If, for instance, Samantha hadn’t chosen to stay at home with the children and instead opened her own PR agency and now could receive Social Security benefits of $3,000 a month, there’s no reason for her to take $1,500 a month in derivative benefits.
Your Derivative Benefits Don’t Affect Your Ex-Spouse’s Benefits
Samantha and Don’s divorce was amicable, and Samantha doesn’t want to “take” money away from her ex-husband through derivative benefits. She doesn’t have to worry. Whether or not she takes derivative benefits, Don will still earn his full amount of Social Security. If he remarries, his new wife will also be fully entitled to her derivative benefits regardless of what choice Samantha makes.
If you were married for over ten years, then when it is retirement time, you can ask the Social Security Administration to compute what amount of derivative benefits you are entitled to, so you can collect the maximum to which you are entitled. You can also visit this great divorce resource from the Social Security Administration or read more in our excellent archive of divorce articles for women.