Divorce can significantly impact a woman’s retirement plans and finances. One question divorced women often have is whether they can receive Social Security benefits based on their ex-husband’s work record. The answer is often yes, but there are some requirements that must be met.
The Basics of Social Security for Divorced Women
Social Security benefits can be paid out based on your own work record or based on the work record of your current, ex, or deceased spouse. When you are divorced, you can typically no longer receive spousal benefits from an ex-spouse while they are alive. However, there are still two ways you can receive benefits based on their work record:
- Collecting benefits on your ex-spouse’s record if you are at least 62 years old and currently unmarried
- Collecting survivor benefits on your ex-spouse’s record if they pass away
In order to collect retirement or survivor benefits based on your ex’s work history, your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years. If you have been divorced for at least two years, your ex does not need to have filed for their own benefits in order for you to be eligible. The amount you receive will be based on their earnings record, not yours.
Detailed Eligibility Requirements
Here are the detailed requirements for collecting Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record:
Collecting Retirement Benefits
- You are at least 62 years old
- You are unmarried
- Your marriage lasted at least 10 years
- The benefit you would receive based on your own work record is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work record
Collecting Survivor Benefits
- Your ex-spouse is deceased
- Your marriage lasted at least 10 years
- You are at least 60 years old (or 50 if disabled)
- You are unmarried, unless you remarried after age 60 (or 50 if disabled)
In either case, you must have been divorced for at least two years before applying for benefits based on your ex’s record. The two year requirement is waived if your ex-spouse is already receiving benefits.
How Much You Can Receive
If you qualify for Social Security benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, the amount you will receive depends on a couple factors:
- Your age: You can receive up to 50% of the amount your ex-spouse is entitled to receive at their full retirement age. If you claim earlier, your benefit will be reduced.
- Other beneficiaries: If your ex is receiving benefits but also has other beneficiaries like a current spouse who is drawing on their record, your benefit may be lower.
- Your benefit amount: You will always receive your own benefit first if it is higher than the spousal benefit.
In general, the maximum spousal benefit is 50% of your ex’s primary insurance amount, which is determined by their lifetime earnings. Theexamples below illustrate how much you might receive at different ages compared to what your ex-spouse would receive:
|Your Age||Your Benefit||Your Ex’s Benefit at Full Retirement Age|
|62||35% of ex’s benefit||100% of ex’s benefit|
|Full retirement age (66-67)||50% of ex’s benefit||100% of ex’s benefit|
As the table shows, by waiting until your full retirement age, you can receive up to half of the amount your ex-spouse is entitled to receive. If you claim earlier at age 62, your benefit is reduced.
How to Apply for Benefits
To receive Social Security benefits based on your ex’s work history, you will need to proactively file an application with the Social Security Administration. Here are the steps to take:
- Gather necessary documents: You’ll need your birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, and ex’s Social Security number.
- Apply online: Go to www.ssa.gov to fill out an online application. If you prefer to apply in person, call to make an appointment.
- Confirm eligibility: The SSA will review your application and confirm you meet the requirements to receive benefits on your ex’s record.
- Enroll: Once approved, you will be enrolled to start receiving benefits on your ex’s record.
The SSA encourages filing approximately three months before you wish your benefits to start. Processing times can vary depending on how complicated your application is.
What Happens If Your Ex Starts Collecting Benefits?
Your ex-spouse does not need to have filed for their own Social Security benefit in order for you to qualify for spousal benefits. However, there are a couple scenarios that can occur if and when your ex does claim their own benefit:
- If your ex claims benefits before their full retirement age, your spousal benefit will be reduced, since it is based on their reduced benefit amount.
- If your ex continues working, Social Security will withhold their benefits until they reach full retirement age. But you can still receive your spousal benefit.
- If your ex suspends their benefit to earn delayed retirement credits, this will increase your spousal benefit when they restart it.
The timing of when your ex starts collecting Social Security can impact the amount you receive, but you aren’t completely dependent on them filing first before you can receive benefits on their record.
If you remarry, you can generally no longer collect benefits on your ex-spouse’s record unless the later marriage ends. The rules are different for survivor benefits:
- If you remarry before age 60 (50 if disabled), you cannot collect survivor benefits.
- If you remarry after age 60, you can still collect survivor benefits based on the ex-spouse who died.
Coordination with Your Own Benefits
Even if you qualify for spousal or survivor benefits based on your ex’s earnings record, the SSA will always pay your own benefit first if it is higher than the spousal amount. For example:
- Your own benefit at FRA: $800 per month
- Spousal benefit on ex’s record: $500 per month
In this scenario, you would simply be paid your own higher benefit of $800 per month. The spousal benefit would not come into play.
However, there are a couple cases where you can collect both benefits:
- File and suspend: Once you reach FRA, you can file for your own benefit but immediately suspend it to earn delayed credits. This allows you to receive the spousal benefit only.
- Age 62 spousal benefit: You can file a restricted application for just the spousal benefit at 62 and delay your own benefit until 70.
These options allow you to receive some spousal benefits in the short-term, yet still earn delayed credits on your own benefit to maximize that amount later on.
Here are some additional pointers on how divorce can impact Social Security benefits:
- You must have been married to your ex-spouse for 10 years to qualify for Social Security benefits based on their record.
- If married less than 10 years, you may still be eligible for survivor benefits.
- Getting remarried does not prevent collection of survivor benefits if the remarriage occurs after age 60 (50 if disabled).
- A name change due to divorce does not prevent you from collecting Social Security under your prior name.
Additionally, for divorces finalized after January 1, 2023, the 10-year requirement may be waived if your marriage lasted at least five years and you are caring for a dependent child under the age of 16 who is receiving benefits based on your ex’s record.
If you have a complex divorce situation, it is best to check with the Social Security Administration directly on your eligibility for benefits.
Divorce does not necessarily prohibit you from receiving Social Security income in retirement based on your ex-spouse’s work history. As long as your marriage lasted at least 10 years, you can receive retirement benefits from age 62 or survivor benefits if your ex passes away. However, your own benefit is always paid first if it is higher. Coordinating Social Security with divorce can be complicated, so it is best to understand your options, check your eligibility, and evaluate filing strategies to maximize your total benefits.