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.
- 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).
You can receive benefits on an ex-spouse's record if you have been divorced for at least two continuous years and the ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits but can qualify for them.
If you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay that amount first. If the benefit on your ex-spouse's record is higher, you will get an additional amount so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount.
If you were born before Jan. 2, 1954, and have already reached full retirement age, you can choose to receive only the divorced spouse’s benefit and delay receiving your own retirement benefit until a later date. If your birthday is Jan. 2, 1954, or later, the option to take only one benefit at full retirement age no longer exists. If you file for one benefit, you will be effectively filing for all retirement or spousal benefits.
If you continue to work while receiving benefits, the same earnings limits apply to you and your ex-spouse. If you are eligible for benefits this year and also working, you can use our retirement earnings test calculator to see how your earnings would affect those benefit payments.
In general, a divorced spouse is entitled to a Social Security benefit that's equivalent to 50% of the ex-spouse's retirement benefit even if the ex-spouse has remarried. If the spouse is deceased, the former partner may be eligible for a survivor's 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. If your ex-spouse passes away, you can remarry and continue collecting survivor benefits on his or her earnings record, as long as you were 60 or older when you remarried.
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.