Social Security benefit rules are complex and confusing, and even more so when you get a divorce. If you were married for at least 10 years, you could be eligible to claim Social Security on your spouse’s work record when it’s time to file for Social Security Benefits.
If you are close to the 10-year mark, you may want to consider delaying the date of your divorce so you can qualify for what could be substantial extra benefits. Spousal and Survivor Benefits won’t reduce your ex-spouse’s benefit and they will not know you are applying for them, so don’t worry about that.
While you may think you are too young to think about that, it could pay off to know about these benefits.
Social Security Benefits and Divorce
The following is a summary based on today’s rules.
Social Security Benefits on Your Ex-Spouse’s Work Record
If you are divorced, but your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record (even if he or she has remarried) if you are unmarried and you are age 62 or older and your ex-spouse has applied for Social Security retirement or disability benefits. You are entitled to receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s work record if the benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.
If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits but can qualify for them, you can receive benefits on his or her record if you have been divorced for at least 2 years.
The Social Security benefits you receive based on your ex-spouse’s work record have no effect on the amount of benefits your ex-spouse or his or her current spouse may receive. They won’t even know!
If you are eligible for benefits on your own record and ex-spouse’s benefits, the Social Security Administration will pay your benefit first. If the benefit on your ex-spouse’s record is higher, you will get an additional amount on your ex-spouse’s record so the combination of benefits equals the higher amount.
Social Security Benefits When Your Ex-Spouse Dies
If you are the divorced spouse of a worker who dies, you could get survivor benefits just the same as a widow or widower, provided your marriage lasted 10 years or more. Benefits paid to you as a surviving divorced spouse won’t affect the benefit rates of other survivors getting benefits on the worker’s record. Survivor Benefits can be received independent of individual benefits which means you can start your own Social Security Benefit and later switch to your Survivor Benefit, or vice-versa. Survivor Benefits can be taken as early as age 60.
Note: Any benefit taken, whether as an ex-spouse or a surviving ex-spouse before your Full Retirement Age will be permanently reduced.
Social Security if You Remarry After Divorce
If you divorce but then remarry, your ex-spousal benefits will stop. You generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ends (whether by death, divorce, or annulment).
However, if you are the divorced spouse of a worker who dies and is receiving survivor benefits, if you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), the remarriage will not affect your eligibility for Survivor Benefits. Many divorced women collect their own Social Security while the ex is alive, but can apply for higher divorced widow’s rates when he dies.
Documents You Will Need
Remember to bring up your ex-spouse when you apply for Social Security benefits so any potential benefits you may be entitled to won’t be missed. The Social Security Administration agent may not automatically ask you. The Social Security Administration will require original documents proving you were married and how long, so it’s important to save your original Marriage License and your court-stamped Divorce Decree. So be sure to keep these documents in a safe place!
It’s important for planning purposes that you know what your cash flow will be after divorce and after retirement, especially if you are over 50. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst will include in cash flow projections related to proposed equitable division and supports the projected benefits you will receive from Social Security (something attorneys don’t do). Read more about Social Security Benefits if you are divorced at, women’s fact sheet on the Social Security website.