There are special rules that apply for Social Security benefits when you are divorced with children. While the ex-spouse is living, there is a discriminatory effect on benefits, but after the ex-spouse dies, a surviving ex-spouse with children under age 16 has one advantage over a surviving ex-spouse with no children. (The age of the child is not a factor if the child is permanently disabled and the disability began before age 22.)During the life of your ex-spouse
Beth and Steve are divorced with children, three kids under age 16. Steve, age 62, started receiving Social Security benefits this year. As we know from this article on children’s benefits, all three of their children are eligible for Social Security benefits based on Steve’s record.
Plus, if they were still married, Beth would be eligible for a parent’s benefit based on Steve’s record as well. But since they’re divorced, a special rule applies to Beth’s situation. Being divorced, Beth is not eligible for the parent’s benefit that is otherwise available to a parent caring for a child (under age 16) of a Social Security recipient.
The parent’s benefit is only available to the current spouse of the Social Security recipient who is under Full Retirement Age. Ex-spouses are not at all eligible for this benefit.
This is the discriminatory effect for divorcees versus married folks. Although everything else is the same, this benefit is not available to Beth since they are divorced.
Once she’s reached age 62 Beth can be eligible for a regular ex-spouse benefit (as long as she and Steve were married for 10 years or more). If at least one of the children is still under age 16 at the point Beth reaches age 62 and she’s still unmarried (and Steve is still alive), Beth can be eligible for an unreduced Spousal Benefit from that point until Full Retirement Age, or when the child reaches age 16, whichever is earlier. Deemed filing will not apply to this situation – in other words, if Beth becomes ineligible (child reaches 16, or she remarries), Social Security benefits cease for her until she applies for another benefit type.After the ex-spouse has died
Drawing out our example of Steve and Beth a bit further, let’s say Steve dies at the age of 63. As we know, since the kids are all under age 18, they are eligible for survivor benefits based on Steve’s record. Beth’s situation becomes more interesting with this development…
Beth is 49 at the time of Steve’s death. Since at least one of the children (of Steve and Beth) is under age 16, Beth is eligible for a surviving parent’s benefit. The advantage here is that the length of Beth and Steve’s marriage is not a requirement. In other words, for this surviving divorced parent’s benefit, the 10-year marriage length is not a factor.
The youngest child of Beth and Steve’s will reach age 16 when Beth is 60 years of age. Up to that point, Beth can continue to receive the parent’s benefit, regardless of the length of their marriage. However, if Beth remarries during this period, she will become ineligible for the parent’s benefit – it’s only available to her while she’s unmarried.
After the last child reaches age 16, Beth is no longer eligible for this surviving parent’s benefit. At this point, if their marriage did not last at least 10 years, Beth is not eligible for any benefits now or in the future based on Steve’s Social Security record. If the marriage lasted 10 or more years, Beth becomes eligible for a regular surviving ex-spouse benefit at age 60 – as long as she doesn’t remarry before age 60. After age 60, she’s still eligible for the survivor benefit.
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