Is my ex-wife entitled to my Social Security benefits?

  • August 6, 2015

Originally published in the News Star and the Shreveport Times on Sunday, August 2, 2015.

 
Question: I have been married to my ex wife for 6 1/2 years. We still live together but we are not married. Is she entitled to survivor benefits? We are now 16+ years and we have had kids after our divorce. Please explain.

Answer: You’re telling me you are married to your ex-wife, and you want me to explain?

I’m going to have to make a few assumptions here: you were married for 6 ½ years. Then you got divorced. But you’re saying you’ve been together for a total of 16+ years. If so, you were married 6 ½ years, divorced, but stayed together another 10 years after that.

And, you had children together after your divorce.

cemeteryI’ve heard people say they get along well with their ex, but that’s getting along pretty well.

You ask if she’s entitled to survivor benefits. The answer is no, because you are writing me and obviously not dead, so she doesn’t have a survivor, she has a husband. Sorry, an ex-husband.

But what if you die before her? That was your real question, wasn’t it? Would she be entitled to benefits under your Social Security?

Maybe.

I asked a trusted contact I have within Social Security about your situation and here’s the response I got:

“In order for a divorced widow to receive aged survivor benefits,” my contact said, “the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years.”

So if your ex-wife applied for Social Security benefits due to the fact that you were once married, she would be denied. You were married for 6 ½ years, not 10.

In that scenario, the answer is no.

But my contact also informed me…

“However, if a young divorced mother has children under age 16 in her care, she can receive benefits as a surviving divorced mother even if the marriage did not last 10 years. The surviving divorced mother’s benefits would terminate when the youngest child reaches age 16 and she would not be due benefits as an aged widow (divorced and married less than 10 years).”

“We always advise that a survivor contact their local Social Security office to see if any benefits are due,” said my contact. “Laws change and we do not want anyone to miss benefits.”

So, if you’ve been together 16 years, but divorced after six and had children after that, it sounds like the kids are all under 10 years of age. If that is the case, your ex-wife and mother of your children would be eligible for “surviving divorced mother’s benefits,” which would last only until your youngest child reached age 16.

I can only guess as to why you ask this question. Perhaps you’ve been given a scary diagnosis from a doctor and you’re thinking about your own mortality.

Or you may be feeling a twinge of responsibility to take care of the mother of your children in the event something happens to you.

It appears Social Security may do a part of the job, if the circumstances are just right. But that solution will only be temporary.

If you’re looking for a longer term solution to her financial security, you’ll have to put that kind of a plan together yourself. It will probably involve some level of regular saving and the strategic acquisition of some life insurance on yourself.

We live in an age where it is possible to get a divorce, still live together and have children together. However, not all the benefits of marriage are fully transferable at divorce.

In this case, full Social Security and long-term security for the mother of your children are not benefits that can be so easily transferred.

 

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Byron R. Moore, CFP® is Managing Director / Planning Group of Argent Advisors, Inc. Email him atbmoore@argentadvisors.com. Write to him at 500 East Reynolds Drive, Ruston, LA 71270 or call him at (318) 251-5858. The opinions of any single advisor do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Argent Advisors, Inc. No forecasts can be guaranteed. Argent Advisors, Inc. does not offer tax, insurance or legal advice. The information contained in this column should not be construed as a substitute for personalized investment, tax, insurance or legal advice.