Social Security: Can an Ex-Spouse Reduce Your Monthly Benefits?

Recently, a reader emailed a question about whether his ex-wife can claim Social Security spousal benefits based on his work history. If she could, furthermore, he wanted to know if her doing so would reduce his own retirement benefits.

As Motley Fool contributor John Maxfield explains in the following video, the answer to the first question is "yes." Under the current rules, the Social Security Administration allows spousal benefits for divorced spouses, so long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the ex-spouse seeking benefits isn't currently remarried.

Alternatively, the answer to the second question is "no." This is because the spousal benefit to an ex has absolutely no bearing on the size of the wage earner's own benefit. For that matter, moreover, it also doesn't have any bearing on the spousal benefits of the wage earner's current spouse -- if one is in the picture, that is.

To learn more about this, check out the video.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2014, at 2:12 PM, smilingdon wrote:

    They should do away with this. It might be something to think about in the "heat of the moment".

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2014, at 8:02 PM, PTPenne wrote:

    Is there an earning time limit on ex-spouse social security payments? Married for 15 years but my income was minimal - but in the last 15 years my income is significantly higher. Why should an ex-spouse receive the full benefit when they were no longer involved?

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2014, at 9:37 PM, southernlizzie wrote:

    UNLESS your ex-spouse is a retired federal employee under the old Civil Service Retirement System. Then his/her Social Security will be reduced by an amount equal to 2/3rd's of their retirement. With this formula, my ex's SS will be reduced to $0. Half of $0 is $0, so I can't get anything from his SS. Of course, neither can he. It's called the Government Pension Offset.

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 1:05 PM, beating2windward wrote:

    If not eliminated, it seems like there should be some adjustment to this rule, if for no other reason for the sake of the taxpayers. I was married for JUST over 10 years, for the first decade of my career (the lowest income range). According to this rule, my ex can claim benefits in the future from SS (from all taxpayers) against my name, using the remaining income of my career (possibly 30 more years of higher income)... that she certainly did not contribute to. The hard work after the divorce has been on my own. She may not reduce what i can claim, but reduces the SS pool. Sorry folks, i don't like this a bit.

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John Maxfield

John is The Motley Fool's senior banking specialist. If you're interested in banking and/or finance, you should follow him on Twitter.

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