If you are divorced you may be eligible to collect Social Security benefits based on the earnings of your ex-spouse. This article explains how to qualify for those benefits and how much you can expect to receive from Social Security.

Key Takeaways

  • A divorced spouse may be eligible to collect Social Security benefits based on the former spouse's work record.
  • The marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years, and the divorced spouse must be at least 62 years old.
  • If the requirements are met, the divorced spouse can receive an amount equal to as much as 50% of their ex's benefits.

Divorced Spouse Social Security Eligibility

To collect Social Security benefits based on a former spouse's earnings record, a divorced spouse must meet these requirements:

  • You must have been married to that spouse for 10 years or more.
  • You must be at least age 62.
  • You cannot currently be married.
  • As a former spouse, you must be entitled to receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits at the time the former spouse applies (whether or not the former spouse has actually started collecting benefits).

The benefit due based on the spouse's work record must be higher than the benefit the person would receive based on his or her own work record. The applicant will receive whichever benefit is the higher amount.

In general, a divorced spouse is entitled to a Social Security benefit that's equivalent to 50% of the ex-spouse's retirement benefit. If the spouse is deceased, the former partner may be eligible for a survivors benefit of up to 100% of that amount.

In either case, the divorced spouse must have reached full retirement age in order to receive the full (50% or 100%) benefit. If the person files before reaching retirement age, the benefit will be permanently reduced. (This is true, by the way, for anyone applying for the Social Security old-age benefit. You can file as early as age 62, but the benefit amount will be set at a lower amount.)

If the divorced spouse was married and divorced more than once, and each marriage lasted the required 10 years, that person is entitled to the higher of the two benefits, but not both.

Even if the former spouse remarries and the new spouse is collecting Social Security benefits based on that person's employment record, the ex-partner can also collect based on that record.

If you remarry while receiving benefits based on your ex-spouse entitlement, and that person is still alive, you will no longer be eligible for those benefits.

When Your Ex Isn't Collecting Benefits Yet

If your ex has not yet applied for retirement benefits but can qualify for them, you can receive benefits based on the ex-spouse's earnings record, provided you meet the other requirements and have been divorced for at least two years.

How to Apply for Benefits as a Divorced Spouse

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

When you apply for spousal benefits as a divorced spouse, Social Security will assume you are also applying for benefits on your own work record, and you'll be eligible for the higher amount of the two. If your benefit is lower, Social Security will first pay you an amount based on your record, then make up the difference between that and what you're eligible for on your ex-spouse's record.

The Bottom Line

If you were married for at least 10 years, you may be able to collect Social Security benefits based on your ex's work record. If you meet the requirements, you can receive benefits equal to as much as 50% of your ex's retirement benefit.

Filing for these benefits is a fairly straightforward process, and to protect your privacy, your ex-spouse won't be notified when you do.