My friend doesn’t qualify for Social Security. Can he get spousal benefits?


Q. My friend does not qualify for Social Security. His ex-wife is not yet the retirement age but will be in a couple of years. They were married over 10 years and now divorced over ten years. Does he qualify for spousal benefits?
— Trying to help

A. It’s kind of you to try to help your friend.

There are a few requirements that your friend must meet to qualify for benefits on his ex-wife’s record.

The marriage must have lasted 10 years or longer, your friend must be 62 or older and his ex-wife must be entitled to Social Security benefits, said Marnie Hards, a certified financial planner with Aznar Financial Advisors in Morris Plains.

The ex does not have to be retired, she said.

“As long as they have been divorced for two continuous years and his ex-wife qualifies for benefits, your friend can qualify for benefits on his ex-wife’s record,” she said. “His full benefit could be up to one-half the amount his ex is entitled to receive at her full retirement age.”

Keep in mind that if he has since remarried, he cannot collect benefits on his ex-wife’s record unless the second marriage ended by divorce, death, or annulment, hards said.

Additionally, his benefits will have no impact on his ex-wife’s benefits, she said.

Finally, if he is working and earning an income while receiving these benefits, there are some earnings limits that will apply.

“The special earnings limit applies if your friend is under full retirement age,” she said. “As of 2023, if he earns over $21,240 per year, Social Security will withhold $1 in benefits for every $2 of income that exceeds that threshold.”

An exception to this rule occurs in the year that he reaches full retirement age., Hards said.

“In that year, for the period between January 1 and the month he attains full retirement age, the income limit increases to $56,250,” she said. “This means that if he earns more than this amount, Social Security will withhold $1 for every $3 he earns above that amount. The earnings limit is dropped completely once he reaches his full retirement age.”

Even if his ex-wife remarries, he continues to be eligible for benefits on her record as long as he continues to meet the requirements, she said.

He can apply online if he is within three months of age 62 or older here on the Social Security website. He can also call (800) 772-1213 or visit his local Social Security office to apply.

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This story was originally published on Jan. 10, 2023. 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.