Q: I'm 64 and my estimated retirement benefit isn't very high. I was a stay-at-home mom. I later worked part-time in our family business, but I recently learned that the portion of income due to my work did not get properly credited under my Social Security number. It was instead credited under my husband's number. After 23 years of marriage we divorced and I started a full time job. Could I qualify for my ex-husband's benefit?
A: You may qualify for a divorced spouse benefit if it is higher than what you would receive based on your own work record. Your own retirement benefit may indeed be low because payroll taxes weren't credited properly and your earnings may be over a short period of time.
The Social Security Administration uses the highest 35 years of earnings to compute your benefit. If you don't have 35 years of earnings, all of the earnings on your record will be used. The years in which you have no earnings on your record will count as zero. This drags down your average monthly earnings, and the initial benefit amount you are entitled to.
If you qualify for a divorced spouse benefit you can be entitled to as much as one-half of the amount that your spouse receives. That may not be much unless your husband had high earnings and paid the maximum. If your ex-spouse started benefits before his full retirement age, his benefit is reduced based on the age he was when he first began receiving them, and you would receive one-half of the reduced amount.
Here are the qualifications for a divorced spouse benefit:
- You were married to your former spouse for at least 10 years;
- You are at least 62 years old;
- You are unmarried; and
- You are not entitled to a higher Social Security benefit based on your own record.
Your former spouse must be entitled to receive his own benefit, but you may still apply for benefits, even if he has not yet filed a claim, as long as you have been divorced for at least two years.
If you would like to receive an estimate of the benefits, contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. Before making a final decision, learn how earnings from work can reduce the amount of Social Security benefits that you receive. Visit Social Security online at www.SocialSecurity.gov. For more information about benefits, see the publication: “Retirement Benefits”, SSA Publication No. 05-10035, and "What You Need To Know When You Get Retirement Or Survivors Benefits," SSA Publication No. 05-1007.