Social Security and Divorce: How Social Security Benefits are affected

Are you receiving Social Security Benefits and getting a divorce? You may be able to claim benefits based on your former spouse's work record.

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If you were married to someone for ten years or more and then divorced, you may be able to claim retirement or survivors benefits based on your former spouse's employment record. Your claim to benefits has no effect on what your former spouse (or his or her current spouse, if he or she has remarried) receives.

Retirement Benefits

If you are divorced, you may be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits based on your former spouse’s work record if all of the following are true:

  • You are 62 or older.
  • Your marriage lasted at least ten years.
  • You are not married.
  • Your former spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
  • The benefit you would get based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your former spouse's work record.

If your former 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 two years.

It doesn’t matter whether or not your former spouse has married again. If you have remarried, however, you generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse's record. If your current marriage ends by death, divorce, or annulment, you would again be eligible.

As a divorced spouse, your benefit amount is half of your former spouse’s full retirement amount (or disability benefit) if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement age. Your full retirement age depends on when you were born; for anyone born before 1938, it’s 65. For people born in the next 20 years or so, it goes up gradually. If you were born after 1959, it’s 67. If you start receiving benefits before your full retirement age, you’ll get a smaller benefit.

If you are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits on your own work record, that amount will be paid first. If the benefit based on your former spouse’s record is higher, you’ll get an additional benefit, bringing your total benefit up to the higher amount. Or, if you have reached your full retirement age, you can choose to receive the spousal benefit now and delay your own retirement benefit until later. That can give you a higher benefit later, because you get what’s called a delayed retirement credit

If you are still working while you receive benefits, your benefit payment may be reduced. Use the Social Security Administration’s online Retirement Earnings Test Calculator to see how your benefits would be affected. Your benefit could also be reduced if you receive a government pension.

Survivors Benefits

If your former spouse has died and your marriage lasted at least ten years, you could get benefits just the same as a widow or widower. If you remarry after you reach age 60 (or 50 if you are disabled), the remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits. (See If You're the Worker's Surviving Divorced Spouse on the Social Security Administration website.)

The fact that you receive survivors benefits on your former spouse’s work record won’t affect the benefits other survivors get.

The amount of your benefit will be based on your age; if you’re of full retirement age, you’ll get 100% of your former spouse’s benefit amount.

If you are caring for a child who is under age 16 or disabled who is getting survivors benefits on the record of your former spouse, you do not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule. The child must be your former spouse’s natural or legally adopted child. However, there is a maximum amount that family members can receive each month.  If you qualify because you are caring for the worker's child, your benefit will affect the amount of the benefits of others who claim on your former spouse’s record. 

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