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Can retired federal employees receive Social Security?

Bethesda, MD |

I'm retired under Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS--the old system) and am divorced. I know that under CSRS, my Social Security will be reduced about 90%, But can Social Security also take my ex-husband's portion that I receive, even though it's part of my divorce settlement?

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Attorney answers 2


There are two provisions which might apply to you.

One is the Government Pension Offset, referenced by my esteemed colleague. That applies when a person gets a government pension (such as CSRS) based on work not covered by Social Security (that is, no Social Security taxes were paid on the government earnings). If that person also qualifies for Social Security benefits as a spouse (including divorced spouse) or widow/widower, the spousal Social Security must be reduced by 2/3 of the government pension (see, the example already provided by my esteemed colleague). The spousal Social Security can be reduced to zero, if that's what the 2/3 calculation shows.

But, GPO does not apply to a Social Security check which a person worked and earned for himself/herself. However, if a person worked in a noncovered government job (that is, no Social Security taxes were paid on the government earnings), and also qualifies for a Social Security check based on his/her own earnings on which Social Security taxes were paid, another provision of the law applies, the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

WEP applies if a person gets a noncovered pension (such as CSRS) and hasn't had 30 years of significant earnings on which Social Security taxes were paid (significant is defined by SSA). In this situation, the Social Security check is based on a modified calculation, resulting in a lower Social Security check than if the person had never had noncovered wages. Under this calculation, the Social Security check can never be reduced to zero, though.

There's another thing to consider, as well. If a person qualifies for both an SSA retirement check on his/her own record, and a spousal SSA check, only the higher amount can be paid. Sometimes all 3 provisions, this and GPO and WEP, apply.

This is how SSA explains it on their website:
"Many individuals whose spouse's or surviving spouse's benefits are affected by the GPO have earned sufficient coverage under Social Security to qualify for a retired worker's benefit on their own record.

Because they are receiving a pension based on noncovered employment, the Social Security worker's benefit they receive on their own record is likely subject to the reduction under WEP.
If a person is subject to both WEP and GPO, the calculations are done in the following order:

1. The retired or disabled worker's benefit is computed under the WEP benefit formula.

2. The potential benefit as a spouse or surviving spouse is determined based on the other spouse's work record.

3. The dual-entitlement provision is applied; under this provision, the potential benefit as a spouse or surviving spouse is reduced by the amount of the person's own retirement or disability benefit.

4. The remaining benefit as a spouse or surviving spouse (if any) is subject to the GPO provision. Under this provision, the spouse's or surviving spouse's benefit is reduced by two-thirds of the amount of the person's own pension from noncovered employment.

Consider a widow who is insured for Social Security benefits based on her own work, is entitled to a retirement benefit of $300 on her own record, and is entitled to a potential benefit of $1,000 on her deceased husband's record. Assume she receives a government pension of $600 from noncovered employment.

$1,000 Potential widow's benefit
- 300 Retirement benefit =
700 Remaining widow's benefit before GPO reduction

$600 pension multiplied by .6666 equals $400 (amount of offset)

$700 Remaining widow's benefit before GPO reduction
- 400 GPO reduction =
300 Widow's benefit payable

This person would receive a $300 retired worker's benefit and a $300 widow's benefit from Social Security, plus a $600 pension, for a total of $1,200."

This communication offers general information based on the limited facts set out in the question, and does not constitute the giving of legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. For specific legal advice, consult an attorney in your state who is knowledgeable in this area of law.


Yes, the Social Security benefits will be reduced regardless of whose earnings record they come from. Under Social Security one would receive the greater amount from either spousal retirement or one's own retirement - in either case the Social Security benefits will be reduced due to the CSRB pension.


Your Social Security benefits will be reduced by two-thirds of your government pension. In other words, if you get a monthly civil service pension of $600, two-thirds of that, or $400, must be deducted from your Social Security benefits. For example, if you are eligible for a $500 spouse’s, widow’s or widower’s benefit from Social Security, you will receive $100 per month from Social Security ($500 — $400 = $100).

Disclaimer Information on this site is provided by Brian Scott Wayson as general information, not legal advice, and use of this information does not establish an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions about your specific situation, please call an attorney.

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