A. In order to qualify for a benefit on the record of an ex-spouse, you must:
- Have been married for at least 10 years.
- Be currently unmarried.
- Be at least 62 years of age.
- Not be eligible for an equal or higher benefit on your own Social Security record or on someone else's — if you were eligible for those, that's what you'd collect.
So, based on the information you provided in your question, at age 56 you do not yet qualify for a benefit on your former spouse's record. You have several years to wait.
Q. When I reach age 62, which is this year, I am planning to file for Social Security benefits on the work record of my ex-spouse, to whom I was married for 15 years. My question is: If I take those benefits at 62, will they be permanently reduced?
A. Yes, your monthly payments will be reduced. Here's how it works: If you start receiving spousal benefits at age 66, your full retirement age, you would get 50 per cent of your former husband's benefit. But if you start at 62, you'd get 35 percent.
For example, if your ex-spouse's benefit is $1,000 a month, you would get a spousal benefit of $500 if you start collecting at 66. But if you start at 62, you would get only $350.
For details, see "How Your Social Security Benefit Is Reduced." As the chart shows, the closer you move toward full retirement age, the smaller the reduction of benefits.
Any benefit you get does not affect the amount that your former spouse or his or her current spouse may receive.
Stan Hinden is a former columnist for the Washington Post specializing in retirement issues. He is the author of How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.