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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?

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I was married twice. First marriage 13 years second marriage 15 years. I’ve been single for 15 years and I’m 66 years old. My first ex was a higher earner than my second ex. Can I collect on my first ex. I called social security and they told me I can’t collect on first ex? Confused.

Mary Salisbury

I think they are wrong and some people at the SS admin don’t know the rules very well. Call back and if you get the same answer talk to a supervisor.


Much thanks…I’ll try calling again!

Lucinda Crawford

I was married for 19 years divorced and never remarried Have ex-husband and my own. Birth Certificate of marriage certificate and divorce decree. How do I start the process of survivor benefits I retired after retirement age Do I qualify??Lucinda Crawford

Mary Salisbury

Hello Lucinda, You were married at least 10 years and didn’t remarry so yes you would qualify. Make an appointment with the Social Security Administration as soon as possible and they will determine if your ex-husband’s benefits were more than your own.

Lucinda Crawford

Thank you so very much 🙏

Cheryl visher

I’m 61 years old .I divorced my husband in 2001 we were married in 1991 .I collect social security disability . Can I get benefits from him now or do I have to wait until later ? I’ll be 62 in april

Mary Salisbury

Hello Cheryl, Your benefits will automatically switch from SSDI to Social Security at your normal retirement age (age 67). I take it your ex is still alive at this time. Now that you are 62, you might be able to switch to spousal social security benefits, but that could be less than what you already receive in SSDI and it would be reduced because it would be an early benefit. I suggest you get your paperwork in order and meet with the Social Security Administration and ask. You are over age 60 so if your ex dies, you can take survivor benefits immediately.

In all cases, you need to examine what method is best to maximize your benefits.


I started ss at 62 due to my medical and financial situation. My ss is less than half my husband at 65 and my 2 ex’s at 65. Couldn’t I collect on his 1/2 of 65 yr rate. I have alot of medical issues going on. Look fine to all
I was advised by the phone person who took my application over the phone that I couldn’t collect my current husband 1/2 at his 65 yr old rate.
I have had to do the paperwork for the ss office at times showing figures.
I have ex husband 4 and 15 years older
Who are marriage scammers (proven through courts) current husband denying or arguing if I work

Mary Salisbury

I cannot tell you why the Social Security Administration has told you you couldn’t take 1/2 of one of your ex-husband’s benefits. Perhaps ask them so you know the specific reason.

Tinamarie Laspesa

I’ve been divorced 27 yrs and we did get divorce we where married over 10yrs he never remarried and either did I but he past away and I didn’t know anything about this can I still get it

Mary Salisbury

Tinamarie you can get survivor benefits after the age of 60. Keep in mind you can claim survivor benefits independently of your own benefits so you want to examine how to maximize the amount you get from the two benefits. Social Security will want proof of your 10 year marriage and a copy of his death certificate.

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.

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