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BenefitsLink > Q&A Columns >

Stop, Look & Listen: Railroad Retirement Benefits Q&A

Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman

Divorced Spouse Also Receives State Pension

(Posted October 31, 2007)

Question 642: My question pertains to a surviving divorced spouse. My father worked for the railroad for 39 years before he took a disability retirement at age 60. My parents were married for 18 years before they divorced. After my father was murdered in 2006 I contacted the Railroad Retirement Board in order to collect death benefits but was advised I would not be entitled to anything because my mother(60 years old and also disabled) qualified for a surviving ex-spouse benefits.

She received a letter recently advising her what her monthly benefits would be. She is to receive the following: Tier 1 $1,790.00-$1,090.00 (her state pension)-$509.00 (age deduction) = $191.00/month. This seems unfair to say the least. Can they really take that much of her retirement?

Answer: Under both Social Security & Railroad Retirement, spouse or widow's benefits are reduced if they are receiving a government pension for employment that was not covered by either the Railroad Retirement or the Social Security systems. This provision was put into both programs in the early 1980's as an "equity" factor to put people who work in employment outside of Railroad Retirement or Social Security on the same footing as those who do.

If your mother's employment with the State had been covered by Social Security, she would have earned her own Social Security benefit, which would have been subtracted from her Railroad Retirement Divorced Widow's benefit. Instead, her Railroad Retirement benefit is reduced by 2/3 of her monthly state pension.

The reduction for age is based on the number of months she is under her "full retirement age." For people born in 1947, the full retirement age is 66.

Based on the information you furnished in your question, the reduction amounts seem correct.

Important notice:

Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.

The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.

Copyright 1997-2017 Robert S. Kaufman
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