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Benefits to an Ex-Spouse Don't Impact Current Spouse
Q: Can there be more than one woman collecting benefits as a spouse on the same man's Social Security record? In other words, if a man was married twice (or even more) and retires, can his ex-wives get part of his Social Security? And how does that impact the current wife?
A: Yes, more than one woman can receive spousal benefits on the same man's Social Security record. The law says a divorced woman is due benefits on her ex-husband's Social Security account if she is at least 62, if she isn't due a higher benefit on her own Social Security record, if she was married to the man for 10 years or more, and if she is currently unmarried. Even if she did remarry, benefits would be due if that second marriage ended through death or divorce.
And the good news for the current spouse is that anything paid to an ex-wife is an add-on supplemental benefit. In other words, payments to the ex- spouse do not offset the current spouse's benefits. And that would be true even if there was more than one ex-spouse.
And the equally good news to the retiree is that any benefits paid to his current wife and/or ex-wives do not impact his retirement payments in any way. So, he will get whatever Social Security retirement benefits he is due no matter how many wives he's had.
And let's hope that provision of the law prevents guys from doing what I saw done hundreds of times during my 32-year career with the Social Security Administration. During those years, I talked to many divorced women who were convinced they weren't due any benefits on the ex's Social Security record because he had insisted on including a clause in the divorce decree that essentially said, "I don't want my ex-wife to get a nickel of my Social Security." Most women told me they went along with their soon-to-be former husband's scheme because at the time they were more interested in washing their hands of the bozo than getting their hands on his Social Security.
After I sent this response to the person who asked the original question, she came back with a follow-up e-mail.
Q: No wonder Social Security is going broke. Why are we paying benefits to so many women on each man's Social Security record?
A: First of all, Social Security is not "going broke" because of benefits paid to divorced women. Social Security has long-range financial problems primarily because the aging baby boomer generation will soon swell the rolls of retirees.
Second, even though the divorce rate in this country is high, a check of Social Security records will show that on the vast majority of accounts benefits are being paid to only one spouse, if any. And that's primarily because for the past several decades, so many women have been working and paying taxes that they are eligible for much higher benefits on their own Social Security account than they would be due by collecting the limited payment rate (somewhere between 30 percent to 50 percent) of a husband's or ex-husband's Social Security.
Third, many women who do receive benefits on an ex-husband's Social Security record will tell you they deserve every nickel. I'll always remember a woman that I interviewed many years ago while helping her file for divorced widow's benefits. She told me her sad tale about a marriage that lasted almost 40 years.
"He expected me to be a full-time wife and cook and maid, and he never let me work outside the home," she said. "Then when we were both in our early 60s, he ran off with a 35-year-old woman from down the street." I don't think anyone would argue that this woman (the first wife) should be entitled to divorced widow's benefits on Mr. Wonderful's Social Security record!
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