Senior Living



Social Security and You: Divorced Man's Guide to Social Security

Tom Margenau on

Over the 27 years I've been writing this column, I have probably written a hundred columns directed at divorced women. But after answering emails from men who had questions about benefits for divorcees, it dawned on me that I've never written a column for divorced men. Today, I'll make up for that.

I should point out that I will be concentrating on the benefits a husband's ex-wife can get on his Social Security account -- and what effects those benefits have on his own Social Security or on benefits due a subsequent wife. Why? Because those are the kinds of questions I get from men.

I will briefly cover what benefits a divorced man might be due on his ex-wife's Social Security record. But frankly, that rarely happens. As I recently pointed out, because women traditionally have earned less than men, and because women take time off from their careers to raise children, there are millions of women getting benefits off a husband's or ex-husband's Social Security account. But there are only a handful of men getting spousal benefits from a wife's record.

Let me first explain how a divorced woman qualifies for benefits from her ex. First of all, she's got to be old enough, which means at least age 60 for divorced widows and at least age 62 for an ex-wife whose husband is still alive. Second, her marriage to the ex must have lasted at least 10 years. Third, she can't be currently married. (If she remarried after the divorce, but that second marriage ended and she is unmarried now, she's potentially eligible for benefits from the first ex.) And fourth, she can't be due higher benefits on her own Social Security account. There are other qualifying conditions, but these are the main ones.

And if you are that rare divorced man whose ex-wife consistently made more money than you, meaning she is due a higher Social Security benefit than you are, then the eligibility rules for divorced women explained above would also apply to you. In other words, the same rules that apply to divorced and financially dependent wives and widows also apply to divorced and financially dependent husbands and widowers.

But as I said, men very rarely qualify for these kinds of benefits. And that's why a divorced man's interest in rules for divorcees almost always have to do with how his ex might qualify for divorced spousal benefits and how it affects his own benefits. Here are some sample questions.

Q: My first wife and I were married for 30 years before getting divorced five years ago. I have remarried. My ex hasn't. She is 62 years old. My current wife is 45. I am 65 and not yet drawing Social Security. My ex says she is going to file against my Social Security. Can she do that without my permission?

A: Your ex-wife does not need your permission to file for divorced wife's benefits on your record. If the law says she's due benefits, she'll get them no matter what you say. So if she is not currently working, she'll be due benefits on your record unless her own retirement benefit pays her a higher rate. And by the way, your ex can file for benefits on your account even if you haven't filed yourself.

Q: My wife and I are about to turn 67. We are thinking of filing for Social Security. My wife's own benefit is so small that I'm sure she will get higher benefits on my record. But I was married once before, and my ex-wife is already getting divorced wife's benefits on my account. Is that going to reduce what my current wife will be due on my record?


A: No, it won't. Any benefits paid to an ex-spouse are just "add-on" benefits. They don't take anything away from what you are due or what your current wife will be due on your record.

Q: I am 76 years old. I waited until I was 70 to file for Social Security. The primary reason I did this is so my wife will get the highest widow's benefits possible when I die. But I just learned that my first wife, to whom I was married for 20 years, is going to get half of my benefits upon my death. And my current wife will have to settle for the other half. This doesn't seem fair.

A: Well, it might not be fair if it were true. But it's not true. When you die, your current wife will get 100% of your benefit -- assuming she is over her full retirement age when you die. And assuming your ex hasn't remarried and is over her full retirement age and isn't due higher benefits on her own record, she also will get the 100% widow's rate. As explained above, any benefits paid to your ex do not offset any benefits due your current wife.

Q: I can't believe my ex-wife is getting my Social Security. When we divorced in 2018, I very specifically added a clause to the divorce decree stating that my soon-to-be ex-wife would not be able to get any of my Social Security. And yet now I learned she's telling her friends she is getting benefits on my account. I'm going to call my lawyer to stop this!

A: You can call your lawyer if you want. But you aren't going to stop this. That clause you added to your divorce decree isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Federal law overrides anything you or your lawyer might scribble onto your divorce papers. And if that law says your ex is due spousal benefits on your account, she's going to get them.

Q: I've been married and divorced five times. Is each of my ex-wives going to get some of my Social Security? No wonder the system is going broke!

A: Actually, it's pretty uncommon for more than one ex to get benefits on your account. Why? Because the only way all your ex-wives would collect on your record is if they all have remained unmarried and if all of them have never worked. Or to put that another way: All your exes who have remarried and all your exes who have worked and will get their own Social Security won't be collecting divorced spousal benefits from you.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has two books with all the answers. One is called "Social Security -- Simple and Smart: 10 Easy-to-Understand Fact Sheets That Will Answer All Your Questions About Social Security." The other is "Social Security: 100 Myths and 100 Facts." You can find the books at or other book outlets. Or you can send him an email at To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate, Inc.




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