sixtyandme logo
We are community supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Social Security Benefits and Divorce

By Mary Salisbury February 11, 2023 Family

Did you know that if you were married for at least 10 years, you may be able to claim Social Security benefits based on your ex-husband’s work record? This is particularly important for women who were stay-at-home moms who had a shorter work history and, unfortunately, lower incomes than their husband.

The Social Security benefit rules are complex and confusing, and even more so when you get a divorce.

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-husband’s record (even if he remarried) if:

  • You are unmarried and you are age 62 or older;
  • Your ex-husband is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits and;
  • The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-husband’s work.

Don’t worry, the Social Security benefits you receive based on your ex-husband’s work record has no effect on the amount of benefits your ex-husband or his current wife may receive. They won’t even know!

If your ex-husband can qualify for retirement benefits but has not yet applied for them, you can still receive benefits on his record if you have been divorced for at least 2 years. That makes sense since otherwise, he could purposely keep you from getting Social Security benefits.

If you are eligible for benefits on your own record and your ex-husband’s work record, the Social Security administration will pay your benefit first. If the benefit on your ex-husband’s work record is higher, you will get an additional amount (a bump up) based on your ex-husband’s work record so the combination of benefits equals the higher amount.

Keep in mind that any benefits taken before your Social Security Normal Retirement Age (which for most people is age 67) will be permanently reduced.

Social Security Benefits When Your Ex-Spouse Dies

If your ex-husband dies, you could get benefits just the same as a widow, provided your marriage lasted 10 years or more.

  • Benefits paid to you as a surviving divorced spouse won’t affect the benefit rates of his current wife (or other wives) getting benefits on your ex’s work record.
  • Unlike regular spousal Social Security benefits, survivor benefits can be received independent of individual benefits.
  • Benefits can be taken as early as age 60.

Because survivor benefits can be received independent of individual benefits, you have an opportunity to maximize the benefits you can get. Did you know that for every year that you postpone taking your own Social Security benefit past age 67, your benefit will grow 8% per year? That’s a 24% increase if you postpone taking your benefit until age 70.

An option could be to take the survivor benefit until age 70, and then switch to your own benefit. (That’s what I plan to do!) Software is available online that can help you figure out how to best maximize your Social Security benefits.

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 ex-husband’s record unless your later marriage ends (whether by death, divorce or annulment). However, if both marriages lasted at least 10 years, you can pick the husband with the better work record.

If your ex-husband dies, if you wait to remarry until 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 survivor’s rates when the ex dies.

What You Need to Apply for Spousal Social Security Benefits

To apply for spousal or survivor benefits, you will need to prove you were married for at least 10 years. The Social Security Administration will want to see your marriage certificate and your divorce decree. These documents may take time to get, so plan ahead!

Social Security is not marital property that is divisible upon divorce but if yours is a “grey divorce” (age 50+), it’s important for planning purposes that you know what your cash flow will be after divorce. When I work with my “grey divorce” clients, I include Social Security in the cash flow and net worth projections I prepare so my clients can see what their financial future looks like if they accept a proposed settlement.

Additional resources about Social Security Benefits if you are divorced:

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Did you know a 10-year marriage can be really important when it comes to Social Security? Would you collect on your ex-husband’s Social Security if you could? Have you checked whether you are eligible?

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Husband 1st wife never work or lived in America she married 13 years come here 40 years later collecting half his ss I been married to him for 45years he’s 90 now I’m 66 collecting my own ss if he dies first witch wife gets the benefits she has everything so far from u.s. food stamps housing Medicare medicade she’s86 I have nothing it’s not fair especially never no work no American I should come first have 3 baby’s all big not fair

Mary Salisbury

Hello Fran,
Both you and his new wife can collect on his Social Security. If you claim spousal or survivor benefits, it will not affect his benefits or the new wife’s benefits. I suggest you make an appointment with the Social Security Administration and have your divorce decree and your marriage certificate in hand.

Kerry Simmons

I am Canadian my husband is American I have tried several times to get through to Social Security once I got through explained everything then I was cut off. My question we are still married he abandoned the family in 2005 at that time we were married for 15 years its 2023 now I am on my Canadian CPP because of illness and I am 63. Can I collect his Social Security ???

Mary Salisbury

I would try to go to your local Social Security administration office rather than talk on the phone. They usually require you to make an appointment.

Mary Salisbury

Kerry I’m not sure how the Canadian rules on CCP and the US rules on SS interact, or even if the affect each other at all. Try making an in person appointment with the social security admin office.

Teresa Stravers

I’ve been on SSDI since 2011, my ex husband and I divorced in 2015. We were married for 20 years. I’m 55 now, if he dies before I’m 65, I won’t be able to collect his social security?

Last edited 1 year ago by Teresa Stravers
Mary Salisbury

Truthfully, I’m not sure of the rules when it comes to SSDI, and when Social Security might overrule your benefits. I think it’s possible that you might be eligible to get survivor benefits if he dies and you are over 60. A phone call to Social Security, when you are approaching 60 years of age would be what I would do.

Mary Salisbury

Teresa, I believe you are eligible to receive survivor benefits if your ex dies on or after your 60th birthday. But it might be a better maximizing strategy to postpone those benefits until your SSDI benefits flip to Social Security. Software is available online for about $35. Social Security won’t assist with what is the better maximizing strategy.


You can collect after age 60 on your former spouse while on SSDI, or if your former spouse passes away you can collect on both your accounts when you are on SSDI before age 60. If you collect on their account at age 60 and they are still alive I think they reduce the amount like early retirement.

Teresa Stravers

Thank you for your answers. God bless you in Jesus name.

Laureen Howard

My husband and I were both working. We were married for 24 years and divorces in 2004. I started getting my Social Security with I turned 62 due to illness. He started getting his he turned 65. Can I still get his Social Security since his amount it larger than mine?

Mary Salisbury

Lauren I’m pretty sure you get just one chance when you elect when you are both living. Plus his would have to be more than twice yours for you to get a bump up. However, if he dies first, you can elect to get survivor benefits.

Olivia Outlaw

Yes, you can.

Mary Salisbury

Rereading your question, yes I think you can go back in to claim spousal. This is because when you filed, since he had not claimed SS yet, you could not claim spousal benefits. Now that he has filed, the opportunity to claim spousal benefits has opened up.


Great info! I had taken my SS benefit at 63 and my amount was greater than half of ex husband. He has continued to work. Divorce was final in Feb 2019.
is it possible to increase my earnings now ?

Mary Salisbury

Robbie as I said, above, I think you just have one chance with regard to benefits while you are both living. You could always try calling Social Security, or making an appointment to be sure.

Mary Salisbury

Yes I think you can if the opportunity to take spousal wasn’t open at the time you filed because he had not filed for SS. Now that you have been divorced two years, I believe you can go in and claim spousal benefits.

1 2 3

The Author

Mary Salisbury is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® and Divorce Mediator and the founder of The Right Divorce Solution, LLC. Mary helps clients understand the long-term financial implications of property division, child support and alimony. Mary’s passion is to help couples and individuals have a financially smart and emotionally kinder divorce.

You Might Also Like