Social Security Q&A: Should My Sister Wait to File on Her Ex’s Record?

SS photo cropped

Question: My sister Stephanie was married more than 10 years but divorced in mid-life. She originally worked as a licensed practical nurse before marriage and children. She worked for her husband’s business as well for a few years. After raising her children, she went back to work as a nurse’s aid not making too much. She recently retired at 62 but has not started taking Social Security yet. My guess is that she’ll be better off taking her own retirement at 63 or 64 and then taking half of her ex-husband’s when he retires at full retirement age. How can I evaluate this? The Social Security administration said she’d be better off taking her own Social Security, but I doubt it; her ex-husband always made pretty good money.

Answer: Commercial software can help, but she surely should do what you are guessing she should do. ​If she files for her own retirement benefit before full retirement age, she will be deemed to be filing for her divorced spousal benefit (if her ex is older than 62). In this case, she’ll be forced to take what is pretty close to the larger of the two reduced benefits. Most likely her reduced retirement benefit exceeds her reduced spousal benefit, and she’ll just get her reduced retirement and never see a penny in terms of a divorced spousal benefit.

Another way of saying this is that the minute someone files for a retirement benefit, they are tossed into excess benefit hell and can never receive a full spousal or widows benefit by itself — just the excess or close to the excess of their spousal or widows benefit over their retirement benefit, inclusive of any delayed retirement credits. This is even true during years in which one suspends one’s retirement benefit. My guess is the best option for Stephanie is to wait until full retirement age, collect just her divorced spousal benefit and then at 70, start collecting her retirement benefit, which will begin at its highest possible level. In other words, she should not file for her retirement benefit until 70.


When it comes to personal finance, economics and our software care about one thing—your living standard. All questions in personal finance boil down to your living standard. Your decision about when and how to take Social Security can affect your living standard throughout your retirement.

I am a professor of economics and I’ve spent a good part of my academic career studying personal financial behavior. Here’s why my colleagues and I developed Maximize My Social Security. Deciding, on your own, which Social Security benefits to take and in which month to take them is incredibly difficult. Most households face millions of options. You can easily lose tens of thousands of dollars making the wrong choices.

My company’s software, Maximize My Social Security, can help you avoid costly mistakes and instead discover your maximized lifetime household benefits.

Share This Post

Related Articles

Powered by WordPress · Designed by Theme Junkie
Facebook IconTwitter Icon