Do I Qualify for My Ex-Spouse’s Social Security Benefits?

Are you a retiree, or almost a retiree, and going through a divorce?  If so, you will want to know how a divorce affects your Social Security.  Here are some basics on how Social Security benefits work.

Much of this information comes right from the Social Security Administration (SSA) website. This article will attempt explain the basic rules.

Am I Eligible for Social Security as a Divorced Spouse?

To collect Social Security benefits based on a former spouse’s earnings record, a divorced spouse must meet the following requirements:

  • You must have been married to your former spouse for 10 or more years.
  • You must be age 62 or older.
  • You cannot currently be married.

How Much of My Ex’s Social Security Benefit Can I Receive?

A divorced spouse is entitled to a Social Security benefit equivalent to 50% of the ex-spouse’s retirement benefit, even if the ex-spouse has remarried.

If the ex-spouse is deceased, the former partner may be eligible for a survivor benefit (sometimes called a widow or a widower benefit) of up to 100% of the ex-spouse’s benefit.

In either case, the divorced spouse must have reached full retirement age to receive the benefit – and that age is currently between age 65 and age 67, though experts predict it may rise in the future as the population continues to live and work longer. This calculation is on a sliding scale, meaning that based on when you were born, you will be eligible to receive your full benefit at age 65, 66, 67, or one of these ages plus several months. Find your full retirement age on the SSA’s calculator.

What If I Am Eligible for My Own Social Security?

If you earned income and are eligible for retirement benefits on your own earnings record, the Social Security Administration will pay you your benefit first. However, it’s important to know that if the benefits you could receive through your former spouse’s earning record is higher than your own, your benefit can be adjusted to the higher of the two amounts.

Some different rules come into play based upon when you were born. In the case of benefits as a former spouse, if you were born before January 2, 1954, and you have already reached full retirement age, you can choose to receive only the divorced spouse’s benefit and delay receiving your own retirement benefit until a later date. If your birthday is January 2, 1954, or later, the option to take only one benefit at full retirement age no longer exists, and you will receive the higher benefit.

What about Social Security If I Am Still Working?

If you haven’t retired yet and are eligible to receive Social Security income with your present employment income, the traditional limits will apply to what you can receive. Although the amount of Social Security income may be reduced due to your working, you can still receive your former spouse’s benefit in many circumstances.

Additional Social Security Tips

There are even more things to know about Social Security, but overall, very little should stand in the way of an ex-spouse receiving the benefit if they qualify. For example, even if the divorced spouse was married and divorced more than once, and each marriage lasted the required 10 years, every divorced spouse can apply for the benefit.

If the former spouse remarries, and the new spouse is collecting Social Security benefits based on that person’s employment record, the ex-partner can also collect at the same time based on the same record.

Also, many spouses in divorce negotiations agree to terms in the divorce decree that say that will give up their rights to their former spouse’s Social Security benefit. These clauses are contrary to the law and are not enforceable.   A state divorce decree does not over rule Federal Rules regarding disability.

One limitation to note is if you remarry while receiving benefits, you will no longer be eligible for your former spouse’s benefits.

How to Apply for Social Security Benefits as a Divorced Spouse

You can apply for Social Security benefits as an ex-spouse:

An appointment is not required, but if you call ahead and schedule one, it may reduce the time you spend waiting to apply. The SSA recommends gathering the following documents before you apply:

  • Your birth certificate or other proof of birth;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status; ;
  • S. military discharge paper(s) if you served before 1968;
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year;
  • Final divorce decree;
  • Marriage certificate;
  • Former Spouse’s parents’ names;
  • Former Spouse’s Social Security Number.

The SSA also recommends you bring your bank account information, such as a checkbook or website printout with information including routing and account numbers. The purpose of having this information on hand is to sign up for available Direct Deposit, thus avoiding future concerns about delayed, lost or stolen payments. For more information visit https://www.ssa.gov.