Questions From Divorcees

By Tom Margenau

July 20, 2016 7 min read

Q: I am 62 years old. I had to stop working because of various medical problems I don't need to bore you with. I am thinking of signing up for my Social Security and wanted to ask you how to do that. By the way, I am divorced. We were married for 25 years. My ex died just last year.

A. You actually have quite a few Social Security filing options. I will go over the main ones with you.

Option One: You could just simply file for reduced retirement benefits. You would get 75 percent of your full retirement age rate. This is your simplest option. But it also is the least desirable moneywise.

Option Two: You could file for retirement and disability benefits at the same time. Because retirement claims are very simple to process, they would begin paying your reduced retirement benefits almost immediately. It would take another two or three months to complete the work on your disability claim. If the claim is denied, you simply continue to get your reduced retirement benefits. If your disability claim is approved, then your monthly Social Security check would bump up to your full retirement age rate (because a disability benefit equals a full retirement benefit rate).

Option Three: You could file for reduced divorced widow's benefits and then later switch to possibly higher benefits on your own Social Security record. You would get roughly 82 percent of your ex-husband's benefit rate now. Then at 66, you could switch to 100 percent of your own retirement benefit. Or you could wait until 70 and then file for your retirement benefits and get a 32 percent delayed retirement bonus added to your monthly checks, giving you a 132 percent rate.

Option Four: You could employ option two now, and then at age 66, switch to a full divorced widow's benefit. You would do this is your widow's rate is much higher than your own retirement benefit.

There actually are other options — and permutations of these four options — that you could consider. But discussing them for now would, I think, just confuse you. Which way you go depends entirely on the monthly benefit rates involved. So you need to sit down with someone at your local Social Security office and go over all your possible filing scenarios and pick the one that is best for you.

Q: My ex-husband and I had a dry-cleaning business for many years before we divorced. All the earnings from that business went on his Social Security record, even though I did all the bookkeeping and payroll and other office duties. My ex is 61 but I am almost 65. I checked with Social Security and learned that I am due nothing! And I'm sure my ex will one day get a big fat Social Security check. I think Social Security is cheating me. I plan to go back and refile our taxes.

A: Social Security isn't cheating you. Your ex-husband cheated you. Or possibly, you cheated yourself.

You said you did all the bookkeeping for the business. If that included the filing of tax returns, you should have done a better job of it. Or if someone did your taxes for you, you should have been asking some questions way back then.

The part of the tax return that assigns self-employment income for Social Security purposes is called the Schedule SE. What likely happened is that just one Schedule SE was completed and that form had your husband's name and Social Security number on it. But based on what you said, the income from the business should have been divided. There should have been two Schedule SE's prepared, one with his name and SSN and one with yours.

You might as well give up your plan to go back and file amended tax returns. To do so would require not only a lot of time and effort, but also would need your ex-husband's cooperation. And I'm sure that is never going to happen.

The only good news I can give you is that once your ex-husband reaches age 62, you will be eligible for divorced wife's benefits on his Social Security account. (He does not have to be getting Social Security himself.) You would get an amount equal to one-half of his full Social Security benefit rate.

And the only glimmer of long-range hope I can give you is that if he dies before you do, you will then finally get 100 percent of his Social Security in the form of divorced widow's benefits.

Q: I took my own Social Security last year when I was 62. I was married for over 25 years to a man. We divorced 10 years ago and I have wanted nothing to do with him since! But I did just hear from a mutual acquaintance that he also is getting Social Security. Am I due anything on his record?

A: It's not likely — at least while he is alive. While he is living, you could get the difference between your benefit rate and about one-third of his added to your retirement check. In other words, if one third of his is more than what you are getting, you could get the difference added to your benefits. But it is not very likely that you are getting less than one-third of his benefit.

But when he dies, it's a different story. Assuming you are 66 or older when that happens, you would get your own benefit supplemented up to 100 percent of whatever he was getting at the time of death. You said you "want nothing to do with him." But I suggest you at least read the daily obituaries and keep watching for his name!

Q: Do I have to be married for 10 years to get part of my husband's Social Security?

A: The 10 year duration-of-marriage rule applies only to women filing for benefits from an ex-husband. If you are not divorced, you can get some of your husband's Social Security record as long as you've been married for at least nine months.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at thomas.margenau@comcast.net. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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