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Social Security Mailbox

Ex-Spouse Asks About Benefits

Can she collect based on her ex's work record?

Q. I was married to my ex-husband for 28 years. Now he's retiring, at age 66. I'm 59 and was a stay-at-home wife. I've never remarried. Can I receive Social Security benefits based on his work record when he retires and, if so, how old must I be to collect them?

A. Yes, you'll qualify for Social Security benefits as a divorced spouse, but not right away.

See also: Early retirement and spousal benefits.

To receive that benefit, you must:

  • have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years;
  •  be at least 62;
  • be unmarried;
  • not be eligible for an equal or higher benefit on your own Social Security work record, or on someone else's record.

So you could start collecting three years from now, when you turn 62. But at that age you would get 30 percent less than what you'd receive if you waited until your full retirement age, 66. Generally, the benefit at full retirement age is half of what the ex is collecting.

For more information, read "If You Are Divorced."

Q. How can I find out whether I'm eligible for any of the benefits that Social Security offers?

A. Have a look at Social Security's online Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST). It can help you figure out which benefits might be available to you.

Also of interest: Collecting Social Security benefits from ex-husband. >>

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote 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.

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