One of the key benefits of Social Security is the spousal benefit – a payment at retirement that goes not to the worker who paid into Social Security over time, but his/her spouse. The payment was originally designed to provide retirement support for what were typically (at the time) stay-at-home spouses in a single-income household, and still remains relevant today for many spouses who take at least some time off from work to raise a family.
However, the spousal benefit is not only available for currently married couples; single people who were previously married may also be entitled to a spousal benefit, based on the ex-spouse’s earnings record. This spousal benefit for divorcees becomes available as long as the couple was married for at least 10 years, and the divorcee has not remarried.
For some divorcees, the ex-spouse’s spousal benefit is a key pillar of retirement income, and choosing when to start the benefit – early at a reduced amount, or at full retirement age for the full amount – is a crucial decision. For others, the ex-spousal benefit will ultimately be trumped the divorcee’s own retirement benefit from years of working. But for those born in 1953 or earlier, who are eligible for retirement and (ex-)spouse benefits, there is still an opportunity to further leverage the spousal benefit by filing a Restricted Application for just the ex-spouse’s benefit at full retirement age, and switching to his/her own individual benefit at age 70 – increased by 32% Delayed Retirement Credits!
For some divorcees, though, the biggest opportunity of the ex-spouse’s spousal benefit is simply recognizing when it’s available, and claiming it properly, as if the ex-spouse’s benefit is larger, the divorcee can actually step up his/her benefit to the higher amount!