Social Security Benefits After Divorce

Social Security is often a primary source of post-retirement income for elderly Americans. It's important to know whether you’re entitled to any portion of your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits.

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Social Security Benefits - A Divorced Woman's Guide

Despite the fact that women today are equal or sole breadwinners for their families, women continue to earn less income than men.

Because of income disparities between genders, husbands are often entitled to higher Social Security benefits than wives. As a result, many working women will receive more benefits based on their ex-husband's work record. However, the reverse may also be true. So, although this article focuses on divorced women, it’s important to note the same requirements will apply to a divorced husband whose eligibility for Social Security benefits is based on his ex-wife's work record. The laws governing Social Security benefits are gender-neutral.

Social Security Overview

“Social Security” refers to the federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance benefits (OASI), which originally covered only the “worker spouse.” OASI was eventually expanded to include spousal benefits and to allow spouses to keep their derivative benefits, even after a divorce or the worker spouse’s death.  

Eligibility Requirements for Divorced Spouses

Before you can receive benefits on your ex-husband’s Social Security work record, you must meet all of the following spousal-benefit eligibility requirements:

  • your ex is entitled to Social Security retirement benefits
  • your marriage lasted at least 10 years
  • you are unmarried
  • you’re at least 62 years old, and
  • the benefit you’re entitled to on your own work record is less than the benefit you’d receive on your ex’s record.

If your ex-husband hasn’t applied for benefits yet, but qualifies for them and is age 62 or older, you can receive benefits on his record if you’ve been divorced from him for at least two years and meet all of the requirements listed above.

Eligibility When Your Ex-Spouse is Deceased

If your ex-husband dies, you may receive benefits on his record, as long as your marriage lasted for at least 10 years. If you don’t meet the 10-year marriage rule, you can still qualify for benefits if all of the following are true:

  • you’re caring for your ex-husband’s natural or legally adopted child
  • the child is under age 16, or disabled, and
  • the child is getting benefits on your ex-husband’s work record.

Your benefits will continue until the child reaches age 16 or the child's disability ceases.

The amount of benefits you receive as a divorced spouse will not affect the amount of benefits other survivors (such as another ex-spouse) receive on your ex's record.

Resources

For more information about Social Security benefits, eligibility requirements, and to apply online, check the Official Website of the U.S. Social Security Administration.

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