Ask Larry: Can I Still Get Social Security Divorced Spousal Benefits At 62?

Ask Larry

Today’s column addresses questions about whether divorced spousal benefits could reduce other benefits including childhood disability benefits (CDBs), how long a reconsideration request might be expected to take and whether survivor benefits might be affected by the WEP or GPO. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

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Can I Still Get Social Security Divorced Spousal Benefits At 62?

Hi Larry, I was married to my ex husband for 16 years. I am now 60 and he is 63. Due to covid he was let go from his job and is now filing to collect his Social Security retirement benefit.

We have an adult disabled daughter who was just cleared to collect a disabled child benefit based on his record. Will I still be able to collect a spousal benefit on my ex’s record when I retire at 62 without reducing either his benefit or our child’s benefit? Thanks, Celia

Hi Celia, Yes, at least potentially. The fact that your daughter is drawing benefits on your ex-husband’s record would have no adverse impact on your ability to collect divorced spousal benefits. Divorced spousal benefits are exempt from being reduced due to the family maximum benefit (FMB) FMB +0.1%.

And if you do collect a divorced spousal benefit based on your ex’s record, it won’t reduce either his retirement benefit or your daughter’s childhood disability benefit (CDB).

It sounds like you could qualify for divorced spousal benefits as early as 62 provided that you’re unmarried and that you don’t qualify for a higher benefit rate based on your own earnings. You couldn’t file for divorced spousal benefits while your ex is living without also being required to file for your own Social Security retirement benefits at the same time.

Therefore, you’ll only be eligible for divorced spousal benefits if 50% of your ex’s primary insurance amount (PIA) is higher than your own PIA. And, if you file for benefits prior to your full retirement age (FRA), your benefit rate will be reduced for age. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

Also, if you’re still working and if you apply for benefits prior to FRA, there’s a limit on how much you can earn and still collect benefits due to Social Security’s earnings test. You may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully explore your available options and find the strategy for maximizing your benefits in the way that works best for you. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Is Five Months An Unusual Amount Of Time To Wait For A Reconsideration Decision?

Hi Larry, My husband filed a reconsideration form five months ago with SSA because they calculated his WEP based on Canadian dollars rather than converting to US dollars, which subtracted more than the allowed 50% of his benefit.

They have not responded, although they insist it is being processed. Is this an unusual amount of time to wait? Meanwhile his Social Security retirement benefit has been significantly cut as a result. Thanks, Debrea

Hi Debrea, Normally I’d say that five months is an unusually long amount of time to be waiting for a reconsideration determination, but I’m sure that the pandemic has taken a toll on the processing times for all types of Social Security operations. If you’ve checked with Social Security recently and they’ve told you that your husband’s request is pending, then that’s probably accurate.

Reconsideration determinations are made by employees in the Social Security regional payment centers, and you can’t contact those offices directly. The local Social Security offices can verify on their computers that a reconsideration request is pending at the payment center, but that’s about all they can tell you. Information on how far along the request is toward reaching a conclusion isn’t available to the local offices.

The only thing I can suggest is to continue to follow up with Social Security periodically, although if it takes a lot longer then you may want to contact the offices of one of your representatives in the US congress. Sometimes, intervention by the offices of a congressperson or senator can get expedited results. Best, Larry

Will My Survivor Benefits Be Affected By WEP And GPO?

Hi Larry, I turned 69 last October. I am not a US citizen and I have not worked in the US. I am a resident outside the US in a country with no Social Security agreement with the US. I worked in my country as a teacher and retired a long time ago. My husband, a US citizen, died recently from a service connected disease so I qualify for the survivor benefit even if I am not a US citizen and not a US resident.

Will my US Social Security survivor’s benefit from his work in the US still be affected by WEP and GPO given that my own retirement benefit was from my own government work? In addition, I am receiving a tax free DIC benefit from the US Veterans and SBP annuity from DFAS if any of these might have any effect. Thanks, Mila

Hi Mila, Neither the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) or the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision will affect your survivor benefits.

The WEP only affects Social Security retirement and disability benefits that are payable based on a person’s own US Social Security earnings history, not survivor benefits.

The GPO only applies if a person is receiving a government pension based on their own work for a government agency in the US. Foreign government pensions and VA benefits are excluded from the definition of government pensions for GPO purposes so those will have no bearing on your US Social Security widow’s benefits. Best, Larry

I am an economist at Boston University, a Fellow of the American Academy, an NBER Research Associate, and President of Economic Security Planning, which markets maxifi.co

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