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Consumer

Family scenarios affect Social Security benefits

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NEW YORK (7/15/2014)--Don't deny yourself a significant source of income in retirement. If you were married for 10 years or more and are divorced, you could be claiming half of your former spouse's Social Security benefits (The Wall Street Journal July 9).

Divorced spousal benefits are just one source of potential Social Security income. Here's more information about divorced spousal benefits and other family scenarios that could affect you:

Divorce: Subject to these conditions, you can earn as much as 50% of your former spouse's benefit--and your ex doesn't even have to know you're claiming it:
  1. You both are entitled to benefits based on your own work.
  2. The marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  3. You haven't remarried.
  4. You are age 62 or older.
Spousal benefit: Even if you never have worked outside the home, you are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits equal to half of your working spouse's retirement amount.

The spousal benefit amount is determined by your age when you begin claiming benefits, regardless of whether the working spouse chose to receive benefits early or not. In other words, if your working spouse chose to receive benefits early, you still can receive your full spousal benefit by waiting until full retirement age.

Surviving spouse: Surviving spouse benefits depend on when your deceased spouse originally claimed his or her benefit and the age at which you claim the benefit:
  1. If you both were at Social Security's full retirement age, you are eligible to receive 100% of your deceased spouse's retirement benefit, assuming that is higher than your own.
  2. If you both took your benefits early, the benefit is reduced.
If you are divorced, you can receive the same survivor benefits as a spouse, as long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years.

Survivor benefits: Unmarried children younger than 18 years old are eligible for survivor benefits. The child calculation is subject to certain rules that typically bring the benefit down to 75%.

Underage children when you retire:  If you had children later in life, once you qualify for Social Security benefits, any of your children who are unmarried and younger than 18 years old also can receive as much as 50% of your retirement benefit amount.

For related information, read "Who Goes First? For Couples, Retirement Is All About Timing" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.