I’m divorced. Can I get my ex’s Social Security?

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Q. I was married for 30 years. We divorced three years ago. Neither of us have remarried. I got sick with cancer and went on Social Security disability. I’m 61. At 62 I want to retire. Can I get half of his Social Security?
— Wondering

A. We’re sorry to hear about your illness.

A former spouse is generally entitled to collect Social Security retirement benefits based on the earning history of his or her ex-spouse.

The amount a former spouse can collect is equivalent to, at most, one-half of their former spouse’s retirement benefit, said Thomas Roberto, a family law attorney with Adinolfi, Lieberman, Burick, Falkenstein, Roberto & Molotsky in Haddonfield.

He said In order to collect benefits based on a former spouse’s record, the following criteria must be met: the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years; the applicant has not remarried; the applicant is at least 62 years old; and the former spouse of the applicant is eligible to receive Social Security benefits even if he or she is not actually collecting; the parties have been divorced for at least two consecutive years.

“If these conditions are met, then it should be possible to collect based on a former spouse’s earning history,” Roberto said. “The amount of benefits the applicant receives would have no impact on the amount of benefits the former spouse is entitled to receive.”

It is important to note that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will not allow an ex-spouse to “double dip,” by collecting the full amount of benefits afforded via their own record and that of the former spouse, he said.

“If the applicant is eligible for benefits, SSA will pay that amount first,” he said. “If the former spouse’s benefit is higher, SSA will pay the applicant an additional amount based on the former spouse’s record so that the combination of benefits equals the higher amount.”

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This story was originally published on Feb. 11, 2021.

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