There is a loophole in the rules surrounding how divorced folks’ Social Security benefits are treated. As you may know from other articles you’ve read here and elsewhere, if you were married for at least ten years and you’ve been divorced for two years, as long as your ex is at least age 62, you are eligible to file for a Spousal Benefit based upon the ex’s record. In addition, as long as you fit the circumstances, if your ex passes away before you, you will have access to his or her Social Security benefit amount as a Survivor Benefit. These things are pretty much the same as if you were still married to your ex-spouse.
There’s one rule that is different for ex-spouses than for a married couple – and it has to do with the restricted application for Spousal Benefits.
Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits
If you’ll recall, this is when you have reached Full Retirement Age (FRA, age 66 for most folks these days, but increasing up to 67 between birth years of 1955 to 1962), and at this age you can file strictly for Spousal Benefits if your spouse has already filed for his or her benefits. This allows you to receive a benefit equal to half of your ex’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA, the amount he or she would receive in benefits at his or her FRA) while allowing your own benefit to accrue Delayed Retirement Credits of 8% per year, as much as a 32% increase.
What’s different for divorced folks is that your ex-spouse doesn’t have to have already filed for benefits in order for you to file the restricted application for Spousal Benefits only. You only need to be divorced, at Full Retirement Age and have not filed for your own retirement benefit.
The fact on its own isn’t really a departure – after all, you wouldn’t want your ex to control when you would have access to benefits that you are eligible for. What’s different is that BOTH spouses can file restricted applications on the other’s record. In the case of married folks, only one can file a restricted application, because there is a requirement for the other spouse to have filed. Since this requirement is not present for divorced spouses, both can file the restricted application.
So, there you have it. The one rule that can be used by ex-spouses that can’t be used by anyone else. It’s not much, but it’s at least something.A Social Security Owner's Manual, 2013 Edition, can be purchased by clicking this link. If you'd prefer the Kindle version (and let's face it, ALL the cool kids do!), you can find that at this Kindle version link.