“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir
Over the summer, I had the experience of a lifetime visiting Alaska. I climbed mountains in the Chugach National Forest, got up close to glaciers the Kenai Fjords National Park, hiked the tundra that traversed the Katmai National Park and fished the rivers that feed Bristol Bay. The scenery was unforgettable. You might be asking: “Did I see any grizzlies?” You betcha! While I fished the rivers and streams, these enormous creatures lumbered close by with their heads down looking for fish – salmon to be exact.
The thousand-pound grizzlies and I were not the only great fishermen in Alaska. American bald eagles were everywhere. In 1782, the bald eagle was chosen as the emblem of the United States because of its long life, great strength and majestic look. A little known fact is that bald eagles mate for life. Unfortunately, many humans do not stay together. Divorce is very common. Knowing a divorce’s impact on Social Security is a cornerstone of a good financial plan.
Social Security is a gender-neutral program. Benefits apply to both males and females or ex-husbands and ex-wives. Divorcees will receive Social Security benefits without filing any special papers at the time of divorce.
If your marriage lasts 10 years or longer, you are eligible to receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work earnings record. That’s assuming that the benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own earnings is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s. Even if your former spouse remarries, you can still receive benefits if you are unmarried, age 62 or older and your ex-spouse was entitled to Social Security. Your full retirement age will also affect the benefit amount you receive. If you take any benefit before your full retirement age, the benefits you receive will be reduced.
If you remarry, you cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless the marriage ends (death, divorce or annulment). If you remarry and your second spouse dies, you qualify to claim benefits from either your first or your second spouse (assuming each marriage lasted at least 10 years). If your former spouse is deceased, you may collect benefits as early as age 60 as a surviving divorced spouse. If your ex- is deceased and you are disabled, you can collect as early as age 50.
You may also be entitled to collect benefits for your children if your ex-spouse dies. If you are raising children, you may receive benefits for their care until they are age 16, then they can receive benefits until they are 18 or 19 and are still in high school full-time.
If your ex-spouse has not applied for benefits, but could qualify for benefits and is age 62 or older, you can start receiving benefits (assuming you have been divorced for two or more years). In general, you will receive one-half of his/her retirement benefit. If he/she should die before you, you will receive his/her full retirement benefit.
In today’s world, most couples have entered the workforce. Many divorcees could receive a larger Social Security benefit based on ex-spouses work record than they may receive on their own. When you decide to take those retirement benefits, the Social Security Administration will calculate the benefits for which you are eligible—your own as a worker, as a spouse or an ex-spouse.
You can apply for benefits by calling 800-772-1213 or online at SSA.gov. Your ex-spouse will never be notified that you are receiving benefits based on their work record. Remember, this is a two-way street and Social Security is gender neutral. Your spouse or ex-spouse can collect benefits based on your work record.
Reports of Bald Eagles in Massachusetts are on the rise. Keep an eye out and you may see one too.
This article originally appeared in the Old Colony Memorial and various www.wickedlocal.com sites.