Katja Rivera (64), is a Berkeley, California-based massage therapist and theatre director. She claims she has never […]

Katja Rivera (64), is a Berkeley, California-based massage therapist and theatre director. She claims she has never earned more that $30,000 per year. Her earnings were sometimes lower when her daughters were young.

Rivera was married to a man for 10 years who has always earned more than her. Rivera expects to retire in the next few years with a Social Security check that is based on her ex’s higher earnings.

Many people who divorce don’t know they can receive Social Security benefits based on their ex-spouses’ work history. This is according to William Meyer, founder and CEO of Social Security Solutions. The website helps people decide when and how to claim Social Security. He says that those who are not aware of the benefits can miss crucial details and make poor decisions that could cost them thousands of dollars in their lifetimes.

Let’s start with the basics. If your marriage lasted more than 10 years, you may be eligible for benefits based upon your ex’s work history. The amount you receive will not be affected by the benefits your ex or your ex’s current spouse, nor any other ex-spouses.

The rules for these benefits are dependent on whether your ex-partner is still alive or deceased.

If your ex is still alive: Divorced Spousal Benefits

You may be eligible for divorced spousal benefits if your ex-spouse is still living and you have not remarried. This benefit could amount to up to half of what your ex would receive at full retirement age. Currently, it is between 66 and 67.

A divorced spouse benefit is only available if the amount earned by you on your work record at the time you apply is greater than that amount. Social security pays only the highest of the two amounts, not both. If you remarry, your divorced spouse’s spousal benefits cease.

You must be at minimum 62 to apply. You must also be at least 62 if your ex is receiving Social Security Disability benefits. To be eligible for a divorced spouse benefit, your ex must have been married for at least two years.

Applying for Social Security benefits too early can result in significant financial penalties. If you apply for Social Security benefits before your full retirement age, your benefits will be permanently reduced. The earnings test applies to your payment. It withholds $1 per $2 earned over a set amount. For example, 2023’s number is $21,240.

It is crucial to make the right decision. You can’t change from a divorced spouse benefit to your own benefit later, even if it is larger. If you work, your own retirement benefit may increase over time. You can also earn delayed retirement credits, which increase your retirement benefit by 8.8% each year that you delay applying between full retirement age (or 70), when benefits are exhausted. )

Divorce survivor benefits

Rivera could be eligible to receive a different payment if her ex-husband dies before Rivera does. This is called the divorced survivor benefits.

This benefit is generous in many aspects. You can receive up to 100% of the amount your ex received as divorced survivor benefits. This benefit can be applied for as early as 60 years old, or 50 years if you are disabled. The amount you receive will be subject to an earnings test, just like divorced spousal benefit.

You can still be married and receive divorced survivor benefits, based on your ex’s work history, provided you remarry at 60 or older. You can also switch to a divorcée survivor’s benefit. You could, for example, start with a divorcing survivor benefit at age 60, and then switch to your own retirement benefits at 70 if it is larger.

Your ex may need to be called

Rivera believes that Rivera’s ex will receive half her benefit, even though Rivera waited until her retirement benefit reached 70 to apply. Rivera would need to get her ex’s Social Security Statement to be certain. This is something she isn’t comfortable with.

Register at www.ssa.gov to create a “my Social Security account” and view your earnings records and projected benefits. These numbers can be used to calculate your benefit. You can use free claiming calculators such as the one at AARP, or more complex paid calculators such as Maximize My Social Security (starting from $39).

Meyer points out that you won’t be able to access the same information about an ex-spouse’s records. You may not be able to determine the value of your divorce benefits if you don’t ask your ex for their statement. Meyer says this can make it difficult to plan ahead and maximize your lifetime Social Security benefits.

He says, “Even though it may not be in your best interest to call your ex-partner, this might be the only time it is worth doing so.”

This article was written and published originally by The Associated Press by NerdWallet.