If my emails are any indication, there sure are a lot of rotten husbands out there. That’s why I keep telling my wife she should fall down on her knees everyday and thank her lucky stars that she got one of the good guys. OK, I really don’t do that. In fact, if I did say that to my wife, the only reason she might drop to her knees is because she’d be laughing so hard she wouldn’t be able to keep standing.
But I can’t help thinking there are an awful lot of ... well ... awful men out there. That’s because I get more than a few emails from women asking me a Social Security question that involves being married to a jerk. (Oh, and I’m sure there are more than a few nasty women out there, too. But in the 25 years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve never heard from a husband with a Social Security question involving a mean wife. But again, I hear from wives of rotten husbands all the time.) Here are several examples.
Q: I was married to a very controlling and aggressive man. We owned a ranch, and I helped him run the operation. After several years of living together and then less than 10 years of marriage, he said I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough for him, and he filed for divorce. We were married for 9 years and 10 months. I was so soured on men that I never married again after that. He remarried several times.
I learned he recently died. I’m 68 years old and am living on a small Social Security check that I earned by doing a variety of jobs over the years. When I called Social Security and asked if I could get any widow’s benefits on his record, they said no. They said I had to have been married for 10 years. I have two questions. No. 1: Is that 10-year rule really the law? No. 2: Can I get any Social Security credit for those years we ran the ranch together?
A: Let me tackle your second question first. I’m going to assume that in those years that you ran the ranch with Mr. Wonderful, he filed tax returns placing all the income from the ranch under his name and Social Security number. (That’s a very common scenario in self-employment situations. The guy gets all the earnings on his record, and the wife who runs the business with him gets a goose egg.) There is nothing you can do about that now.
The answer to your first question is that the 10-year rule is indeed the law for women trying to get benefits as a divorced spouse. And 10 years means 10 years. Sadly, 9 years and 10 months just won’t cut it.
But I can give you a little glimmer of hope. You said you were with this guy for a couple years before you got married. If you can show that you were in a common-law relationship with him during that time, you might be able to say you had two years of a common-law marriage and nine years of a traditional marriage, making more than 10 years combined. But that would only work if you were indeed in a pre-marriage common-law relationship with this guy and if you lived in a state that recognizes common-law marriage. So, check into those things and proceed from there.
Q: After almost 40 years of marriage, my husband left me for a much younger and prettier woman. We’re still married, and I don’t plan to give him a divorce because I want to get back at him by collecting his Social Security. He’s 62 but says he doesn’t plan to file for Social Security until he is 70. He would never let me work outside the home, so I don’t have my own Social Security. I am also 62. How will I be able to get the spousal benefits I’m due if he refuses to sign up for Social Security?
A: You can get the benefits you are due on his record by dumping his sorry butt. As long as you remain married to him, the law assumes he is supporting you, so it won’t let you get any of his Social Security until he files for benefits. You certainly don’t want to wait until age 70 for that to happen.
But if you get a divorce, then you will be eligible for benefits (although not right away). That’s because the law allows a divorced woman to collect spouse’s benefits from her ex-husband’s Social Security record even if he isn’t getting benefits himself. He must be old enough to be eligible for Social Security. He is, because you said he’s 62 years old. The law does make you wait two years after the divorce before you can collect from the ex. But filing for benefits at 64 is better than waiting until 70. So, see a divorce lawyer and once he is legally out of your hair, wait a couple years and then contact your local Social Security office.
Here is another evil thought. Maybe the excitement of being with that “much younger and prettier woman” will cause your ex to have a heart attack and die. Then you will be eligible for much higher divorced widow’s benefits on his account.
Q: I want to know if there is any way I can attach my husband’s Social Security. We were married for 20 years. He maxed out our credit cards, buying all kinds of things (cars, boats, campers, etc.) I didn’t think we needed. Then he ran off with another woman (taking the camper and boat) and left me with all the bills.
I was hounded by some pretty aggressive bill collectors, and I finally paid off all his debt. He has no plans to pay me back, so I want to know this: Can I attach his Social Security in order to get back the money that he owes me? By the way, I have worked and have my own Social Security, but it’s a little less than he would be due.
A: It sounds like you need a good lawyer, not a Social Security guy. But since you asked, I’ll address your question.
As a general rule, Social Security benefits can only be garnished to collect back taxes or to collect past due child support, so I’m afraid you won’t be able to “attach” his Social Security.
But if you have a voodoo doll in his likeness, you might want to stick some pins in it. Why? Because the only way you will be able to touch his Social Security is by collecting divorced widow’s benefits on his account. (You can’t get any of his Social Security while he’s alive because your own benefit exceeds the small percentage of his benefit that you are due.)
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has a book with all the answers. It’s called Social Security: Simple and Smart. You can find the book at www.creators.com/books, or look for it on Amazon or other book outlets. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns, visit www.creators.com.