The 'Ex' Factor and Social Security

By Tom Margenau

July 18, 2018 6 min read

Q: My ex-wife was getting divorced spouse benefits on my account. She recently died. How do I go about getting her benefits added back into my account?

A: There is nothing to add back to your account. Social Security benefits paid to divorced spouses, and for that matter, benefits paid to any dependent spouse or child, are merely add-on benefits. They don't take a nickel away from anything the primary account holder is due. So now that she has died, her checks merely stop. No other adjustments to your Social Security record are necessary.

Q: My ex-wife (we were married for 27 years) is trying to get benefits on my account. She isn't a nice person and she was very antagonistic and mean-spirited to me throughout the divorce process. I don't want her to get any of my Social Security. So how do I stop her from doing this?

A: Assuming she meets all the eligibility requirements, you can't stop her from getting benefits on your record. To qualify for those benefits, she would have to be at least 62, not due higher benefits on her own record, and unmarried. So maybe you want to introduce her to a handsome retiree and hope he sweeps her off her feet and leads her down the aisle. Otherwise, she'll be getting Social Security checks on your record. But as I pointed out in the prior answer, whatever she gets doesn't take anything away from you or your Social Security account. So don't lose too much sleep over this.

Q: My first wife and I were married for more than 30 years before divorcing five years ago. I have remarried. She hasn't. We remain good friends, and I would like to do anything I can to make sure she gets spousal benefits from my Social Security. Do I need to sign any papers granting her permission? By the way, I am already getting my Social Security. My ex is about to turn 62 and is ready to file.

A: People sure are curious creatures, aren't they? The guy who wrote the prior question was trying to do everything in his power to keep his ex from getting any of his Social Security. And here you are — bending over backwards to help your former spouse. That's nice.

But you don't have to do any bending. There is nothing you need to do and no papers you need to sign. Your ex merely needs call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 to get the ball rolling. Assuming she isn't due higher benefits on her own record, she will get an amount equal to about one-third of your full Social Security benefit.

Q: There is an older guy living on our block who doesn't get along with anyone in the neighborhood. I'd guess he's in his 70s, and he's living with a younger woman. Neighborhood gossip says that he is getting Social Security and that this 40-something girlfriend of his is also getting benefits. And on top of that, he was married at least three times before and we understand all his ex-wives are getting Social Security from him, too. No wonder Social Security has such problems if we are sending monthly checks to all these women!

A: Neighborhood gossip sure can be entertaining, but it's not always reliable. For example, there is a guy on our block whom everyone calls "GI Joe" because they don't know his real name and because he seems to have a lot of hunting gear in his garage. The word was out that this guy was very strange and that you better keep your distance from him. Well, the other day, I bumped into him at our local Home Depot and struck up a conversation. He turned out to be a very nice man who just happens to like his privacy. He makes and sells duck decoys online and is very artistic and has quite a successful business.

The lesson of that story is not to put so much faith into neighborhood gossip. And don't believe stories about someone's eligibility for Social Security benefits; no one really knows what is going on.

But I can tell you this: There is no way his 40-something girlfriend is getting Social Security benefits on his record unless they have young children at home. And you didn't mention any kids.

Also, it is extremely unlikely that all three of his alleged ex-wives are getting benefits on his Social Security account. I am sure that one or more of those women has remarried, which negates any benefits they might be due from your neighbor. Or even if they have not remarried, there is a good chance they worked and are due higher benefits on their own Social Security accounts.

Throughout my 32-year career with the Social Security Administration, I probably saw tens of thousands of Social Security records. And in all that time, I recall only once seeing an account where a guy had a current spouse and two ex-spouses claiming benefits on his record.

Q: My wife and I recently divorced. We are in our 70s. We both get our own Social Security. Mine is $2,122 and she gets about $2,445. I heard that Social Security discriminates against men. In other words, when she dies, I won't be due any divorced widower's benefits on her record?

A: You heard wrong. Social Security laws are gender neutral. So assuming you meet all the eligibility requirements, you will get an extra $323 in monthly divorced widower's benefits added to your own retirement check if your ex-wife precedes you in death.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at [email protected] 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

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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