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How does divorce affect Social Security benefits?

December 31, 2012: 6:30 AM ET

My husband and I are getting divorced after 24 years. I'm 59 and on disability; he's 65 and not yet retired. He says that after the divorce I can collect on his Social Security, which will be higher than my disability benefits. Is that correct? Also, would I be able to collect on his Social Security after his death? — Name withheld

Based on your information you may be eligible for future benefits once you turn 62, says Kia Green Anderson of the Social Security Administration's press office.

According to Anderson, a person can receive benefits from a divorced spouse's Social Security benefits if they were married for at least 10 years, are 62 years of age, are currently unmarried and aren't entitled to a higher benefit based on their own record.

Additionally, your ex-husband must be eligible to receive his own retirement benefit, even if he hasn't applied for it yet—although in that case you must have been divorced for at least two years.

Should your ex-husband die, you could still receive benefits on his Social Security record if you are at least 60, or you are 50 years old and disabled.

Once you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record, the SSA will default to that amount first. But if your husband's benefit is greater, you will receive a combination of benefits equal to that greater amount.

To learn more, go to www.ssa.gov/retire2/divspouse.htm, a page on the SSA's web site with information for divorced spouses.

— Austin Kilham

Got a question for the Help Desk? Send it to helpdesk@cnnmoney.com.

Posted in: Family Money, Retirement
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