Ask Larry

Why Wasn't I Able To Draw Divorced Spousal Benefits At Age 63 And Then Switch To My Own Record At Age 66?

I claimed early retirement (63 years old at the time) in 2010. I was unemployed and depleted my unemployment benefits and had found no job. I was divorced from my 35 year marriage in 2003 (I believe). My question to you (and I find this most unsettling to me) when I took early retirement my ex spouse who was also 63 at the time had to leave the workforce due to health issues. He claimed disability SS. I had to use my own SS benefits but continued to work (I had found a job by this time). As a result of my continuing to work while taking SS I was overpaid by SS and now have to pay this amount back to SS. I stayed out of the workforce for over 14 years (to care for my three children) and had a lower amount of SS than my ex’s but on my own my amount was higher than 50% of his. Why wasn’t I able to use my ex’s SS amount even at 50% rate during the 63 to 66 years thus delaying my retirement age until 66 when my monthly amount would have been higher? This difference of benefits has costs me so much in financial aide and seems to be a very unfair practices especially to women in my age group due to the fact that more women than men were the ones staying home to care for their children? After the age of full retirement 66 (I’m now 69 years old and still have to work) my monthly amount would probably be equal to my ex spouse anyway. No one seems to be able to provide me with a fair answer. Thank you


Social Security laws are written and passed by Congress. For people born prior to January 2 1954, the law states that if such a person files prior to their full retirement age (FRA) for either retirement benefits on their own record or spousal or divorced spousal benefits, then their application is deemed to be for both types of benefits. In other words, you are not permitted to file for reduced benefits on one record and then later switch to unreduced benefits on the other record.

In 2015, Congress expanded this deemed filing provision for people born January 1 1954 or later to apply regardless of whether or not they had reached full retirement age at the time of their application. Here is an explanation from Social Security's website:

The bottom line is that since you were born prior to 1954 you would have been permitted to file for divorced spousal benefits only at your full retirement age of 66 while allowing your own retirement benefit rate to grow until you turned age 70, but since you filed for reduced benefits prior to your full retirement age you were required by law to take the higher benefit.

Best, Jerry

Jan 2 2018 - 6:09am
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