Social Security Benefits for an Ex-Spouse

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If you are 62 or older, have a previous marriage that lasted at least 10 years, and have not remarried, you may be eligible to collect Social Security benefits based on your former spouse's earnings record. If you have not had a lot of qualifying earnings over your lifetime, this rule could put more money in your pocket.

Eligibility

You must still be single to claim benefits based on your ex-spouse's earnings record. Your ex-spouse's marital status has no effect on your eligibility.

If you have remarried, you are not eligible to claim your ex's benefits, and if you get married while you already are receiving benefits, your eligibility will come to an end. However, if this later marriage ends, because of your spouse's death or a divorce or annulment, you may be able to start or resume claiming Social Security benefits from your ex-spouse.

Your ex-spouse must have worked enough to be eligible for Social Security, and they must be at least 62, which is the earliest age someone becomes eligible for Social Security benefits. It is not necessary for your ex to have applied to receive Social Security. However, your divorce must have been finalized at least two years ago.

Benefits

The maximum amount of Social Security benefits you can receive based on an ex-spouse's record is 50 percent of what your ex-spouse would get at their full retirement age, which varies based on their year of birth. This spousal benefit amount is further reduced if you file before you reach your own full retirement age.

If you know approximately what your ex-spouse earned and their date of birth, you can use a Social Security calculator to estimate their benefit amount. The only way to find out for sure what your Social Security benefit would be based on your ex-spouse's record is to ask them what their primary insurance amount (PIA) is. The PIA is the benefit amount they would receive at their full retirement age.

If you collect benefits based on your ex-spouse's record, it does not reduce the ex-spouse's benefits or the benefits of their current spouse, if they have one. And if your ex-spouse has one or more other ex-spouses who have also not remarried, that will not reduce the amount of your benefits.

When you file for benefits, the Social Security Administration automatically gives you the larger of your own benefit or an ex-spousal (or spousal) benefit. You cannot choose which one to receive.

If you were born before Jan. 2, 1954 and you wait until full retirement age to file, you have the option to file a restricted application so that you receive only the ex-spousal benefit while letting your own benefit amount continue to accumulate delayed retirement credits from your full retirement age until you reach age 70. When you reach 70, you can switch to your own benefit amount if that's larger than the ex-spousal benefit amount. This restricted application option is not available if you file before you reach your full retirement age or if you were born on or after Jan. 2, 1954.

If your ex-spouse is younger than you, you can collect your own benefit when you become eligible to do so and then switch to collecting on theirs once they become eligible.

Survivors Benefits

If your ex-spouse has died, you may collect Social Security survivors benefits, which follow different rules than those for a living ex-spouse. You can apply for benefits as early as age 60. And if you remarry after you reach age 60 (or age 50 if you are disabled), you will still be eligible for survivors benefits.

If you are disabled and your ex-spouse has died, you can begin receiving survivors benefits if you're between the ages of 50 and 59 and your disability started before or within seven years of your ex's death.

If you are caring for a child who is under age 16 or disabled and who is the natural or legally adopted child of your ex-spouse, you can claim survivors benefits even if you weren't married for at least 10 years. In this instance, claiming benefits for your child would reduce the benefits of other people who could receive them based on a relationship with your ex.

The percentage of your deceased ex-spouse's benefit amount you would receive depends on your age and life circumstances:

  • If you are of full retirement age or older, you would receive 100 percent.
  • If you are 60 or older but not yet of full retirement age, you would receive 71½ to 99 percent.
  • If are 50 to 59 years old and disabled, you would receive 71½ percent.
  • If you are caring for your ex-spouse's child who is disabled or under the age of 16, you would receive 75 percent regardless of your age.