Former spouse does not control your Social Security benefits

Nelson: My mother is 76 and my biological father is 78. They were married for 16 years before he abandoned her back in 1976. Now, he’s getting Social Security, a retirement, and disability from the Veterans Administration. My mother doesn’t get a dime. She never remarried, and she is desperate for some income, as she only gets about $800 a month. How can I help her get some of my father’s Social Security or retirement? My father (I hate even referring to him as such) has gotten away with not paying my mother ever since he left us. He didn’t pay child support or help me any way. I did read on the Social Security website that she may receive benefits, but it hasn’t happened. Is it something he has to agree to do? If not, like I said, I want to help her get what she’s owed.

Phil Moeller: I am sorry to hear about your mother and even sorrier that I am hearing this only now, and not years ago. Your mother is eligible for divorced spousal benefits, and in fact may have been eligible since she turned 62. Her former husband has no say in the matter. Under Social Security rules, however, it is her responsibility to file for these benefits and not the agency’s responsibility to tell her about them. For this reason, the most “back” benefits she can get would be for six months.

If she is collecting Social Security already, her new additional benefit would equal the amount by which her spousal benefit exceeded her own retirement benefit. I suggest the two of you call Social Security or visit a local office to apply for this benefit. She will need proof of marriage and divorce.