Many Massachusetts retirees rely heavily on Social Security benefits for income replacement even though Social Security is only intended to comprise about 40% of their retirement income. Individuals who relied on their spouse’s income for years or even decades may have little in terms of their own SS benefits, but they may be entitled to a portion of their ex-spouse’s benefits.

Qualifying for an ex-spouse’s SS benefits

To qualify for a fair share of your ex’s SS benefits, you must have been married for at least 10 years, and you cannot be married at the time you want to withdraw these benefits. You must be at least 62 years old before you can begin receiving benefits, but you will receive less than the full amount if you take them before reaching full retirement age, which is 66 or 67 depending on your date of birth. You are only entitled to a portion of your ex’s SS benefits if the equitable portion to which you would be entitled exceeds your own SS benefits amount.

How to calculate SS benefits

If you qualify for some of your ex-spouse’s SS benefits, your portion of these benefits will be the maximum amount that you can receive; however, it will not necessarily all come from your ex. The Social Security Administration will require you to withdraw your own benefits first before it supplements those with the remaining amount from your ex’s benefits. For instance, if your benefits are $400 per month and your ex’s are $1,200 per month, you will receive a total of $600 in benefits, assuming that you are entitled to 50% of your ex’s benefits. You will only receive the additional $200 from your ex’s account after you withdraw the $400 from your own.

Determining what constitutes a fair division of benefits

Since Massachusetts is an equitable distribution state, assets need not be split 50-50 as long as the division is fair. Even if you are far from retirement age, you and your ex may want to discuss SS benefits with your respective family law attorneys if you plan to enter a divorce settlement.