mobile-bannertablet-bannerdesktop-banner
Ask the Expert Retirement illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Can I Collect Social Security From My Ex?

Dec 02, 2014

Q: I have been divorced twice and currently am not married. Can I draw Social Security off either of my ex-husbands? I was married to the first one for 16 years and the second for 11. And would I be able to remarry and still draw off the ex? I am 62 now. - Rita Diestel, Bruce, Miss.

A: You can collect Social Security benefits based on the earnings of a former spouse if you were married 10 years or more, and you are at least 62 and not currently married. So, you’re good on all three counts.

But there are a few more wrinkles, says Adam Nugent, managing partner of Foresight Wealth Management, an investment advisory firm in Sandy, Utah.

You can collect benefits from the ex-husband with the larger payout but only if you’re not eligible for a higher amount based on your own work record. You can check how much you’re entitled to and your ex-husbands’ payouts (if you have their Social Security numbers) at ssa.gov.

To collect on an ex, you must be divorced at least two years. The former husband that you base your benefits on must be at least 62, though he doesn’t have to have started receiving his benefits yet for you to get yours.

But just because you may be able to collect now doesn’t mean it’s the best move for you, says Nugent. You are entitled to 50% of your former husband’s benefits but, like anyone collecting Social Security, you’ll get less if you start taking it before your full retirement age of 66. The longer you delay the better. If you decide to take it before 66, your benefits will be permanently reduced, 8% for each year you take it before 66. “You will be rewarded for waiting,” says Nugent.

As for marrying again, if your ex is remarried, that won’t affect your benefits. But if you remarry that’s a different story. Nearly 60% of U.S. divorcees remarry and if you do, you are no longer able to get a divorced spouse’s benefits, unless you get divorced again yourself.

If you remain single, you can use many of the same strategies that married spouses use to boost your payouts, says Nugent. One option is to file a restricted application with Social Security (at full retirement age) to collect a divorced spousal benefit, which is half of what your ex gets. Then, once you reach 70, you can stop receiving the ex-spousal benefit and switch to your own benefit, which will be 32% higher than it would have been at your full retirement age.

The rules are a bit different if your former spouse dies. You are entitled to 100% of your deceased ex-spouse’s Social Security, the same as any widow even if he was remarried. And if you are married when your ex passes away, you can collect survivor benefits as long as you didn’t remarry until age 60 or later. If you are collecting Social Security based on your own work history, you can switch to survivor’s benefits if the payment is larger. Or, if you’re collecting survivor’s benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefits — between 62 and 70 — if it offers a larger payment.

There’s a lot to think about, says Nugent, but most important is that there are big benefits for delaying. As a woman you’re more vulnerable in retirement than a man because women typically live longer. Of course, your health, expected longevity, and other retirement savings should be factored in as well. “But if you can wait at least a few more years to start collecting Social Security, that will give you more security in the long run,” says Nugent.

Do you have a personal finance question for our experts? Write to AskTheExpert@moneymail.com.

Read next: Why Social Security Suddenly Changed Its Benefits Withdrawal Rule

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. MONEY may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.

Quotes delayed at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Interactive Data. ETF and Mutual Fund data provided by Morningstar, Inc. Dow Jones Terms & Conditions: http://www.djindexes.com/mdsidx/html/tandc/indexestandcs.html. S&P Index data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions. Powered and implemented by Interactive Data Managed Solutions