Social Security Benefits After Divorce

How divorce affects your Social Security benefit claiming choices

Social Security provides benefits for ex-spouses that work almost the same way as benefits for a current spouse. Collecting benefits on an ex-spouse's earnings record has no effect on the ex's own benefit amount - and no effect on their current spouse's benefit amount if they remarried.

Each section below provides a brief overview of one of the rules and links to an article or page of the Social Security website that goes into more details.

1
Spousal Benefits  - If You Were Married Over 10 Years

Couple standing on wooden docks
Martin Barraud/ Stone/ Getty Images

If you are divorced, but your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can receive spousal benefits on your ex-spouse's record (even if he or she has remarried).

You must also meet the following criteria:

  • You are currently unmarried.
  • You are at least age 62.

(There are exceptions to the criteria above if your ex-spouse is deceased. That is covered in another section below.)

If you collect benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record, it will not reduce or affect your ex's benefit in any way.

If your ex-spouse has not yet applied for their retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, you may still apply or ex-spousal benefits as long as you meet other eligibility criteria, and have been divorced for at least two years. More

2
Benefits For Your Divorced Spouse

Benefits for Ex-Spouses
Your ex-spouse can claim on your record and it has no effect on your benefits. Jim McGuire/Photolibrary/Getty Images

If you are divorced, your ex-spouse can receive benefits based on your record (even if you have remarried), if they meet the criteria in the section above.

The benefit that your ex-spouse is entitled to receive based on your work record must be greater than the benefit he or she would receive based on his/her own work record.

Numerous ex-spouses may be entitled to receive benefits based on your record, if you were married to each for at least ten years. If they collect benefits based on your record, it will not affect your benefit.

If you have not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, your ex-spouse can still receive benefits on your record if you have been divorced for at least two years.

If your ex reached age 62 by January 2, 2016 they can wait until their full retirement age and then file a restricted application to claim only the spousal benefit - and then switch to their own benefit amount at their age 70. This option is not available for those who reach age 62 after January 2, 2016. More

3
Your Ex-Spouse is Deceased

Survivor Benefits for Ex Spouses
You may be eligible for survivor benefits if your ex has passed. LelandBobbe/Stone/GettyImages

If your ex-spouse is deceased, the criteria to qualify are slightly different:

  • If you remarry after age 60, and your ex-spouse is deceased, you may still be eligible for a benefit based on your ex's earnings record.
  • If your ex-spouse is deceased, you may apply for benefits based on their record as early as age 60.
  • The only exception to the ten year length-of-marriage rule occurs if your ex-spouse is deceased, and you are caring for a disabled child, or child under the age of 16, who is also a child of theirs, who is receiving Social Security benefits based on their record.
More

4
When Do Benefits For Ex's End?

When Benefits End
Remarriage before 60 could make you ineligible. JamesRoss/TheImageBank/GettyImages

This section of the Social Security website provides detailed criteria on all of the potential scenarios that could cause a spouse’s or divorced spouse’s Social Security benefits to end - the most common reasons being because you get remarried before age 60, or because of death.

Of course it also spells out the exceptions to those scenarios, and often, even though the spousal benefit may end, you may simultaneously become eligible for a widow or widower’s benefit when your ex passes away. More

5
How Old Do You Need to Be to Collect After Divorce?

Social Security at 62
You must be 62 or older to collect spousal benefits based on an ex-spouse's record. JohnniePakington/Photodisc/GettyImages

You must be age 62. (If your ex-spouse is deceased, you may be eligible for survivor benefits at age 60.)

Your ex- spouse must be entitled to receive Social Security benefits, but if they have not applied for retirement benefits, but are eligible for them, then you may still apply on their earnings record as long as you meet the other eligibility criteria, and have been divorced for at least two years. More

6
How Old Does Your Ex Have to Be?

Social Security Age for Ex Spouse
Your ex must be at least 62. MonkeyBusinessImages/Stockbyte/GettyImages

Your ex must be 62 for you to claim an ex-spousal benefit, but it can get confusing if your ex is younger than you are. The article at the link above goes into more detail. 

Many people look at the claiming rules for current spouses and assume the same rules apply to ex-spouses. The rules are quite similar, but a few of the rules are different. For example, a current spouse has to have filed for you to be eligible for spousal benefits. This is NOT the case for ex-spouses. The ex has to be 62, but there is no requirement that they have filed for their own benefits already. More