A divorced person can collect Social Security benefits based on the earnings of the former spouse if certain conditions are met. The marriage must have lasted 10 years or more, and the applicant cannot currently be married. The minimum age to collect benefits is 62, and the former spouse must be entitled to receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • Depending on eligibility, a divorced spouse may indeed be able to collect Social Security benefits through an ex.
  • If requirements are met, and if divorced and not remarried, the ex-spouse can claim 50% of the ex's benefits, or 100% if the ex passes away.
  • If remarried, the spouse can elect which (the new or the ex) to receive benefits through.

More on Eligibility

In general, a former spouse is entitled to one-half of the former partner's retirement benefit amount. If the spouse is deceased, the former partner will receive the person's full retirement benefit. If the former partner remarries and the second spouse dies, the person can claim benefits based on either spouse's eligible benefit assuming both marriages lasted 10 years or more. 

In the past, some women signed divorce decrees in which they relinquished their rights to Social Security based on their ex-husbands' records. Those clauses are meaningless and are never enforced.

Even if the former spouse has remarried and even if that new spouse is collecting benefits based on the same employment record, the ex-partner can also collect Social Security benefits based on the same record.

However, a former spouse who remarries before age 60 cannot collect survivor's benefits (unless the later marriage ends for any reason). If the former spouse remarries after age 60, he or she can still receive survivors' benefits based on the former spouse’s record. However, the following requirements must be met:

  • The marriage lasted 10 consecutive years or more.
  • The applicant is at least 62 years old.
  • The former spouse is eligible for retirement benefits.
  • The applicant is currently not married.

When an Ex-Spouse Can Claim

This question is best answered by considering the following example. Let’s assume that Cynthia and her ex-husband Peter were married for 18 years, from 1979 until 1997. On reaching her 63rd birthday, Cynthia realizes that she's nearing retirement age. She wonders when she should begin claiming benefits, whose benefits she should claim, and the amount of monthly benefits she will receive.

One thing is for certain: The longer Cynthia waits to begin collecting, the greater the monthly payments will be on the benefits she receives from her own retirement savings plan. Furthermore, as an ex-spouse, she may not collect any amount larger than 50% of the amount her ex-husband is due.

Still More Complications

If your ex-spouse has not yet applied for retirement benefits but can qualify for them, you can receive benefits based on his or her earnings record, provided you have been divorced for at least two years.

In addition, if you are a former spouse and are eligible for either a spouse's benefit amount or your own, you may have a choice, depending on your age. If you were 62 or older by the end of 2015, you are able to choose which benefit you want at your full retirement age.

When workers who are not 62 by the end of 2015 apply for spousal benefits, Social Security will assume it is also an application for benefits on the worker's record. The worker is eligible for the higher benefit, but cannot take just the spousal benefits and allow his or her own benefit amount to keep increasing until age 70.

How Do You Apply for a Former Spouse's Benefit?

Apply for benefits online by going to SSA.gov, or find the local office and make an appointment. To apply for benefits on a former spouse's work record, you need to have that person's Social Security number or date and place of birth and parents’ names.

To protect the privacy of all parties involved, the former spouse is not notified when the application is made.