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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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Cynthia Denise Larson

I`m so confused on all this retirement, SS, Medicare stuff!! WOW

Kathy Emery

What about if ex wife has a court order over 20 yrs old

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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