Social Security After Divorce

If you plan to retire soon and you're divorced, you may be entitled to additional Social Security retirement benefits based on your ex-spouse's work and earnings record. Here's how to get what you might well be entitled to.

This plus can really boost your income in the golden years if your ex-spouse earned a lot during his or her career - especially if your own benefit is lower because you didn't work outside the home for many years.

You may qualify for this additional benefit if you and your ex-spouse are at least age 62 (and therefore eligible for Social Security benefits) and your marriage lasted for at least 10 years. If your ex hasn't filed for Social Security benefits, your divorce must be final for at least two years; if your ex did file for benefits, this time limit disappears.

Your planning. So you determine that as a divorcee you're eligible for a spousal benefit based on your ex's record. How much of a benefit can you get?

A quick and easy way to find out: Ask your ex-spouse, who should know or be able to find out readily the amount of Social Security benefits that he or she stands to receive in retirement. Often, of course, divorce cuts off communication, at least for a while. Even if communicating remains possible, you simply may not want to have a conversation.

The good news is that you need not talk to your ex-spouse but instead can just go to the Social Security Administration office near you to find out.

The SSA folks don't hand over personal information to just anyone who strolls through the door, though. You must prove that you are entitled to access to this information. The SSA staff will in fact not give you certain information, such as your ex's Social Security number and address.

Verification. If you prove your relationship to your ex, such as evidence that you were married for 10 years or more and that you are divorced, you can get some information for planning. You need your marriage license and divorce decree; both must be official records and not photocopies (SSA will return these to you).

In addition, if you don't know your ex's Social Security number, you must provide enough identifying information to make sure that the records you request are the appropriate ones about your ex-spouse. This information includes his or her full name (including maiden name if applicable), date and place of birth, known addresses, parents' names and addresses and possibly other information.

Once SSA pinpoints the right record and verifies your relationship, the Social Security staff may give you access to your ex's:

Generally, if you have the above information you can make these inquiries over the telephone. In certain situations, you must make your request in person.

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Jim Blankenship, CFP, EA, is an independent, fee-only financial planner at Blankenship Financial Planning in New Berlin, Ill. He is the author ofAn IRA Owner's Manual and A Social Security Owner's Manual. His blog is Getting Your Financial Ducks In A Row, where he writes regularly about taxes, retirement savings and Social Security.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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