Social Security Benefits for Divorced Spouses: All You Need to Know

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MassMutual’s annual survey on Social Security knowledge found that 44% of Americans nearing retirement don’t know that divorced people are eligible to collect benefits based on their ex-spouse’s earnings. In fact, Social Security benefits for divorced spouses can be as much as 50% of the ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits — provided that a few conditions are met.

Social Security benefits for divorced spouses are based on the philosophy that a divorced spouse has made their contribution by being the long-term partner of a member of the workforce, and thus, they deserve a benefit as well. This is why the benefits for a divorced spouse are determined using the same factors as those used for the person’s current spouse.

Social Security benefits for divorced spouses: who qualifies?

You need to meet the following requirements to qualify for Social Security benefits for divorced spouses:

  • You must be at least 62 years old.
  • You must be unmarried. If you remarry, you may still qualify for the benefit if your recent marriage ends in annulment, divorce or death.
  • Your ex-spouse must be eligible for Social Security benefits.
  • The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years.
  • You must have been divorced for at least two years.
  • Your own Social Security benefit must be less than the divorced spouse’s Social Security benefit.

If you meet the above requirements, you will be entitled to the Social Security benefit for divorced spouses, irrespective of whether you were a stay-at-home spouse, a full-time worker or a combination of the two.

How much could you get?

The amount of Social Security benefits for divorced spouses depends primarily on your own income and the benefits your ex-spouse is entitled to. The maximum benefit amount you could receive is 50% of your ex-spouse’s benefit at full retirement age (FRA).

You will also have to wait until your own FRA to receive the full benefit. If you claim the divorce benefit before FRA, your benefit amount will be reduced. The FRA for most people is between 66 and 67. If the benefit is claimed before FRA, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may reduce the amount by as much as 30%.

If you are entitled to Social Security depending on your own work record, then you won’t get both your own benefit and your ex-spouse’s. Rather, you will only get the higher of two possible benefits. In other words, if your benefit is less than your ex-spouse’s, you will receive a combination of your own benefit and part of your ex-spouse’s benefit, making the final total equal to half of your ex-spouse’s benefit.

For example, you may qualify for $1,000 in monthly Social Security payments based on your own work history, while your ex-spouse collects $2,500 in monthly benefits. In this case, you would be entitled to $1,250 (50% of your ex-spouse benefits) in divorce benefits, including the $1,000 you would be entitled to based on your own work history and another $250 to bring your final monthly total to half of the ex-spouse’s monthly benefit.

Importantly, divorced benefits will in no way affect the benefit that your ex-spouse receives. Additionally, if your ex remarries, the divorced benefit won’t affect the benefit the current spouse is entitled to.

How to apply

You can apply for Social Security benefits for divorced spouses either online, over the phone by calling at 800-772-1213, or in person by visiting your local Social Security office.

You may also get survivors benefits

If you are entitled to divorce benefits, then you may be entitled to survivors benefits if your ex-spouse has passed away.

Survivors benefits are usually available to widows and widowers. Divorced spouses may also qualify for it if they were financially dependent on the deceased. How much divorced spouses can receive in survivor benefits depends on many factors, including the income of the deceased person, their age and more.

If you remarry before age 60, you will not qualify for survivors benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record.


Can you apply for divorced spouse benefits if your ex hasn’t yet applied for Social Security?

Yes, you can apply for divorced spouse benefits even if your ex hasn’t yet applied for Social Security. However, you must meet the eligibility requirements discussed above.

Should you inform your ex when you apply for or receive Social Security benefits for divorced spouses?

It is not mandatory for you to inform your ex-spouse about applying or receiving divorced spouse benefits. However, it could be easier for you to apply for the benefits using the information your ex-spouse provides.

You can even apply without any help from your ex. To apply for divorced spouse benefits, you’ll need the full name and date of birth of your ex-spouse, as well as the date (both start and end) and place of your marriage. This information will be enough for the SSA to locate your ex-spouse’s work history, which is required to calculate the divorced spouse Social Security benefits.

Will I lose divorced spouse benefits if I remarry?

Yes, you do lose eligibility for ex-spouse benefits if you marry again. However, there is an exception. If your latest marriage ends due to divorce, death or annulment, you may again qualify for spouse benefits based on either marriage.

What if my ex-spouse dies?

After the death of your ex-spouse, you may qualify for benefits as a surviving divorced spouse. However, the 10-year marriage rule applies here as well. Visit this link for more details.