Divorced? It pays to know Social Security’s spousal benefit rules

Robin Brewton, who advises clients on Social Security benefit strategies, has boosted retirees’ financial security with a single question: Are you divorced?

It is a little-known fact: If you’re divorced, it’s possible to claim Social Security spousal and survivor benefits from your ex. It is a strategy that can dramatically boost your benefits – and it will be important for more retirees in the years ahead.

Brewton is vice president of client services at SocialSecuritySolutions.com, which advises clients on benefit strategies. One client, whom Brewton declined to name to keep her privacy, saw her monthly benefit rise to $2,200 from the $900 she’d anticipated when Brewton alerted her about the divorced spouse rules.

Learn more about the rules affected divorced couples in my free Guide to Social Security Spousal and Survival Benefits

Her client was a divorced senior who never earned much money during her working years. At retirement, she was set to file for her meager $900 monthly Social Security benefit – until she learned she could claim for a survivor benefit on her deceased ex-husband’s earning record.

That turned out to be the difference between living in poverty and a much more comfortable retirement: the client’s late ex was a high-earning physician, and she is collecting a $2,200 monthly benefit.

“Many older people who go through a divorce think that once it’s final, they have no claim to any Social Security benefit from their ex-spouse,” says Brewton. “Women, especially, will be able to have higher benefits and enjoy a better standard of living if they make the call to the Social Security Administration and ask about their eligibility for a divorced spouse benefit.”

Learn more in my column at Reuters Money.