Supplemental Security Income and Social Security divorce benefits

Anonymous: If a disabled 61-year-old divorcee remarried and has been on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for 12 years, can Social Security force them take their ex-spousal benefit early, even if it would be sharply reduced from what they would get by waiting to claim?

This doesn’t seem fair, but if it’s permitted, would they always get this lower benefit? When their ex-spouse dies, can they qualify for a higher benefit? Lastly, if this person remarries, when would they be eligible for a new set of spousal benefits?

Phil Moeller: Under SSI rules, recipients can be required to take Social Security benefits as soon as they are eligible, even if the benefits will be reduced by claiming them early. Here is what a former Social Security claims representative told me when I posed this question to him:

Yes, as a condition for receiving SSI, a person must file for any and all other benefits for which they could qualify as soon as they are eligible. SSI is a needs-based program of last resort, so you can’t choose to receive SSI while passing on other benefits to allow them to grow to a higher rate.

The earliest that this person could qualify for divorced spousal benefits on a living ex’s record is at age 62, so she’d have to take her benefits then if she qualifies regardless of the fact that her rate will be reduced for age. If she didn’t file, they’d stop her SSI anyway. The age reduction would be permanent for as long as her ex- is living but would not carry over to her potential survivor rate.

A new marriage would need to be in existence for at least a year in most cases before spousal benefits could be paid. However, the one-year requirement is waived if the person was eligible for auxiliary or survivor benefits on another person’s record in the month prior to the new marriage, or if they are the biological mother or father of the new spouse’s child.

Also, although this person couldn’t receive divorced spousal benefits on a living ex’s record if they remarry, they could potentially receive survivor benefits on a deceased ex’s record if their remarriage occurs at or after they reach age 60.