Medicare and Social Security after a divorce


Q. I was married for just months shy of 20 years. In New Jersey, are you are entitled to your ex-spouse’s Medicare and SSI eligibility if you’re married for over 10 years? My ex is approaching 60, and I have heard that he is soon retiring. I still have at minimum 10 years before retirement.

— Divorced

A. Let’s review the details of the different benefits that may be available to you.

First, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicare or Medicaid have different eligibility requirements and are not based on a former spouse’s work record.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program based on a means test for those with little or no income and few resources, said Dawn Brown, a certified financial planner with Lassus Wherley in New Providence.

Your resources must be below $2,000 for a single person and under $3,000 for a couple, she said.

To be eligible for SSI, you must be over 65 or have a disability, Brown said.

“Disabled applicants must prove that they are severely disabled and unable to work,” she said.

For 2019, the monthly payment for a single person is $802.25, she said. A couple may receive $1,182.36.

If you are married and get divorced, this will impact your SSI payments, Brown said. Instead of the couple benefit, you would receive the single benefit as long as you still meet all the SSI eligibility requirements, she said.

“If you qualify for SSI you will automatically receive Medicaid,” she said. “Medicaid is an assistance program for low-income people. It pays for medical services including hospital services doctors and prescriptions.”

Medicare is different. It’s a health insurance program for people over age 65 and people under 65 with certain disabilities. Medicare usually requires monthly premiums for some services and deductibles for hospital and other costs, she said.

Eligibility for Social Security benefits is also different. This is a retirement benefit and the amount may be affected by divorce and the length of the marriage, she said.

“A divorced spouse may be entitled to Social Security retirement benefits based on their former spouse’s work record if you were married at least 10 years,” she said.

If you are divorced, but your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record – even if they have remarried – if you are unmarried, you are 62 or older, and your ex is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, she said. Your ex’s benefit comes into play if the benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.

“Your benefit as a divorced spouse is equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount – or disability benefit – if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement,” Brown said. “The benefits do not include any delayed retirement credits your ex-spouse may receive.”

If you remarry, you generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ends whether by death, divorce or annulment, she said.

The amount of benefits you get has no effect on the amount of benefits your ex-spouse or their current spouse may receive.

It makes sense to contact Social Security directly so it can review your personal record and determine what benefits for which you may be eligible.

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This story was originally published on Sept. 23, 2019. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.