Are you a divorced person in your early 60s who has not remarried? Was your divorce finalized at least 2 years ago? Did your marriage last 10 years or more? Has your ex-spouse earned more than you’ve earned over your working lives?

If your answer to all these questions is “yes”, you should be thinking about applying for Social Security retirement benefits on your ex-spouse’s work record. It’s a relatively simple procedure, and the beauty of it is that your ex-spouse will not be informed by Social Security of the fact that you applied, or that you are receiving these benefits. The benefits you receive will have no impact on your ex-spouse’s right to receive Social Security benefits or on the amount of those benefits.

Here are the basics, some of which you may already know: An employee, his or her spouse and minor children in the USA are eligible to receive Social Security benefits upon the employee’s retirement based on the length of time the employee worked and had deductions taken from his or her paycheck for Social Security benefits. The employee can receive his or her “full retirement” amount at age 66, but can receive a lesser amount if he or she begins receiving benefits as early as age 62, and a greater amount if he or she defers the receipt of benefits until after age 66. The employee’s spouse is also entitled to receive one half the benefits to which the employee is entitled, upon the employee’s application for benefits. So if John Doe retires and he applies for and begins receiving $2,000 per month in Social Security benefits at age 66, Jane Doe can, upon achieving age 62, begin receiving $1,000 per month simultaneously with John. When John dies, Jane becomes entitled to his full benefit – $2,000 per month.

However, if Jane divorces John at any time after 10 years of marriage, and if Jane is not remarried and is at least 62 years of age, Jane can apply for and receive “ex-spousal” Social Security benefits, whether or not John has applied for benefits, equal to one-half the benefits to which John would be entitled if he had applied for and claimed benefits at age 66. The Social Security Administration will not notify John that she has done so. Jane will continue to receive this benefit until she dies or remarries.

John’s benefits are not reduced by Jane’s claim, and in fact he indirectly benefits every time he remarries. Every spouse whom John remarries is entitled to apply for and receive the same “ex-spousal” benefits that Jane is receiving, again without notice to John if the above conditions are met, and without reducing John’s benefits or the benefits payable to other ex-spouses.

So the next time you attend a wedding and the judge, priest or rabbi asks if there is anyone who objects to the marriage, the person raising their hand just might be an agent of the Social Security Administration. In any event, if you satisfy the criteria listed above, apply for Social Security.

Howard C. Emmerman, Business Law Partner