Your ex-spouse might be able to help you feather your nest in retirement. Even better, there's at least one former-spouse benefit that you won't need to go to court to get access to: payment based on your ex-spouse's Social Security earnings record.
Oh, sure, like everything else Social Security-related, you need to qualify for benefits as an ex-spouse. But once you qualify, the money is yours -- and your ex doesn't even need to know you applied.
How does that work?
According to the Social Security Administration, for you to collect on your ex-spouse's record:
You need to have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years.
You must be 62 years of age or older -- and not currently married.
Your ex-spouse must be eligible for Social Security retirement or disability.
The benefits you get from your ex-spouse's earnings record must be higher than what you'd get from your own earnings record.
Additionally, if you've hit your full retirement age (somewhere between 65 and 67, depending on when you were born), you can claim benefits based on your ex-spouse's record, and then claim your own later. That could be useful if putting off claiming your own Social Security benefits (say to age 70) gets you enough credits to boost the payment based on your own record to a higher amount than the payment on your ex-spouse's record.
The Fine Print
Of course, the way forward isn't entirely free of obstacles. For instance, if you're still working and are under your full retirement age, the money you earn will reduce the Social Security benefit by $1 for every $2 you earn (and $1 for every $3 in the year you reach full retirement age). Also, if you're expecting payments from a pension that's not covered by Social Security, those payments may reduce the amount you qualify to receive based on your spouse's record.
Additionally -- in case you were wondering -- nothing you claim based on your ex-spouse's record will affect his or her own claim on those benefits.
All told, having him or her work to help pay for your retirement may very well be one of the last -- and largest -- nice surprises you'll ever get from your ex. You do need to claim the benefits, but once you do, they're all yours -- no judge needed.
Don't have an ex to help fund your golden years? Read The Motley Fool's free report on boosting your Social Security payout as much as 25%. Motley Fool contributor Chuck Saletta welcomes your comments below.