Social Security Benefits After Divorce

How divorce affects your Social Security benefit claiming choices

Social Security benefits for ex-spouses work almost the same way as benefits for current spouses. Of course, "almost" is the key word. Because you're no longer married, a few different rules apply, but you also have some options. Here are the basic rules and the choices you can make. 

1
The Length of Your Marriage

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

Your marriage must have lasted for more than 10 years to entitle you to receive spousal benefits on your ex-spouse's record.

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2
If One or Both of You Remarry

You can collect benefits on your ex's record even if he has remarried since your divorce. You cannot remarry and collect on his record, however—although you can collect on your new spouse's record. If you don't stay married to your second spouse, the same qualifying rules apply to collecting on his benefits. 

It will not affect your benefit or your ex's benefit even if remarries several times and all those spouses also collect benefits based on his record. 

3
How Old Do You Have to Be?

You must be at least 62 years old to collect Social Security if your ex is still living. But there's a little bit of a catch here, and it might work in your favor. If you were born before January 2,1954, you can wait until your full retirement age then file a restricted application to claim only the spousal benefit. You can then switch to your own benefit amount when you reach age 70. This option is not available for those who were born on January 2, 1954 or after that date.

4
Effect on Your Ex's Benefits

If you collect benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record, it will not reduce or affect his benefits in any way. Nor will it affect his new spouse's right to collect benefits on his work record if he remarries.

5
What If Your Ex Hasn't Retired Yet?

If your ex has not yet applied for his retirement benefits even though he's reached retirement age but he's qualified to do so, you can still apply for ex-spousal benefits. You have to meet the other eligibility criteria, however, and you must have been divorced for at least two years.

By contrast, your current spouse would have to have filed for Social Security for you to be eligible if you were still married. 

6
How Much Will You Receive?

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

The benefit you're entitled to based on your ex's work record must be greater than the benefit you'd receive on your own work record. Otherwise, you're limited to collecting on your own. Assuming it is, you'll receive 50 percent of your ex's retirement amount, but you must have reached full retirement age.  More

7
If 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 rules change slightly. If you remarry after age 60 and your ex-spouse is deceased, you might still be eligible for a benefit based on your ex's earnings record.

You can apply for benefits based on his record as early as age 60 if your ex is deceased. 

If your ex-spouse is deceased and you're caring for a disabled child or child under the age of 16 who is also his child and is receiving Social Security benefits based on his record, you can collect even if you weren't married for 10 years. More

When Do Benefits For Exes End?

The Social Security website provides detailed criteria on all potential scenarios that could cause a divorced spouse’s Social Security benefits to end. The most common reasons are remarriage before age 60 or death. The website also spells out exceptions to these scenarios. Even though your spousal benefit might end, you could simultaneously become eligible for a widow or widower’s benefit if your ex passes away.