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While it may sound shady, this is a perfectly legal and ethical way to increase your Social Security checks. Here's what you need to know from U.S. News & World Report’s recent article, “Can You Collect an Ex-Spouse's Social Security Benefits?”
With the cost of living and long-term care rising, it may be smart to figure out ways to increase your income. A married couple may use their individual incomes for social security, or a strategy using the work history of the higher income earner. This may be especially important for the spouse that was a stay-at-home parent or had a reduced income compared to the other spouse. Income plays a role in long term care planning.
But what if you are no longer married?
If you are divorced, you may be able to access Social Security benefits based on your ex’s Social Security benefits without reducing or harming the other person’s benefits. Your ex-spouse will still receive their full benefits.
To determine if you should collect on the other person’s social security, calculate your retirement benefit first based on your own earnings. Then, take your ex-partner’s retirement benefit based on their earning record and multiply by 50 percent. Whichever is the greater of these two calculations is the amount you are eligible to receive. And again, this will not affect the benefits your ex receives.
The calculators can be found here: Quick Calculator (ssa.gov)
You will receive the greater of the two benefits based off your work record or 50 percent of your ex-partner’s benefits. Whether you take the benefit before your full-retirement age or not, the same formula applies. This said, if you can manage, it is best to hold off filing until you’re retired.
The 3 primary scenarios where you are eligible to receive more Social Security benefits from your divorced partner are:
Even if your ex is remarried or has passed away after the divorce, it does not stop you from using your ex’s Social Security Benefits. If you remarried and the second marriage ended due to an annulment, divorce, or death, you might still be eligible to access your first partner’s benefits.
Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Sep. 30, 2023) “Can You Collect an Ex-Spouse's Social Security Benefits?”