Social Security benefits can be an important part of your financial plan for retirement, whether you’re single, married, widowed or divorced. If you were married previously, it’s helpful to understand how claiming a Social Security benefit for divorced spouse status works. Even though your marriage may have ended, the Social Security Administration can still pay benefits to you when certain conditions are met. Understanding the eligibility requirements can help you take advantage of Social Security divorced spouse benefits if you’re entitled to receive them. Before filing for Social Security benefits work with a financial advisor to make sure you’re getting all you’re entitled to.
Social Security Benefits for Divorced Spouses, Explained
If someone is receiving Social Security benefits, certain members of their family may also be eligible to receive benefits. This includes current spouses, children and ex-spouses. If you’re divorced, your former spouse may be able to claim a retirement benefit that’s equivalent to one-half of the retirement benefit you receive.
When someone claims a Social Security benefit as a divorced spouse, it doesn’t affect the amount of money their former spouse receives. So if your ex-wife or ex-husband claims a divorced spouse benefit, that wouldn’t change what you receive from Social Security monthly. But your earnings record would be used to determine how much money they’re able to get.
Divorced spouses can claim Social Security benefits if they need the additional income to supplement other streams of income in retirement. But there are limits on who qualifies for this benefit and how much money they can receive.
Who Is Eligible for Social Security Divorced Spouse Benefits?
The Social Security Administration spells out who can and can’t receive Social Security divorced spouse benefits. If you’re a divorced person, your former spouse can receive benefits based on your earnings record if these conditions are met:
- The marriage lasted 10 years or longer
- Your former spouse is unmarried
- Your former spouse is age 62 or older
- The benefit your ex-spouse could receive based on their own earnings history is less than what they’d received based on your earnings history
- You’re entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits
These rules apply even if you’ve remarried. If your ex-spouse remarries, then they wouldn’t be able to claim any Social Security benefits based on your earnings record. Instead, they’d have to claim benefits based on their own work history or their new spouse’s earnings record.
There’s also another wrinkle that can get added in if a former spouse remarries, then gets divorced or their new spouse dies. In that situation, they’d be able to claim benefits a surviving spouse’s benefit or a divorced spouse benefit, depending on whichever one is higher.
So you can’t necessarily avoid divorced spouse benefits for Social Security even if your ex remarries. It’s possible that they could still choose to claim a Social Security benefit for divorced spouse status if that amount would be higher than a surviving spouse benefit following the death of their spouse.
What Does Social Security Pay Divorced Spouses?
The amount of Social Security benefits a divorced spouse can receive depends on your earnings record, their earnings record and whether you’ve applied for retirement benefits or not. If you qualify for retirement benefits through Social Security but have yet to apply, your former spouse can receive benefits based on your record. But you have to have been divorced for at least two continuous years for this to apply.
If your former spouse is eligible to claim retirement benefits based on their own work and earnings history, Social Security would pay that amount to them first. They could then qualify for additional amounts based on your earnings if your retirement benefit is higher. At a maximum, divorced spouses can receive a benefit that’s equal to one-half of your benefit amount.
A divorced spouse who was born before Jan. 2, 1954 and is at full retirement age or older could choose to claim a divorced spouse’s benefit and delay payment of their own retirement benefit. Divorced spouses born after Jan. 2, 1954 don’t have that option.
Working after divorce can affect a former spouse’s benefits since they’d still have to follow the regular limitations on earnings. Receiving certain pensions can also affect how much money a divorced spouse is able to receive based on their previous spouse’s earnings record. But again, having a former spouse receive divorced spouse benefits won’t affect how much money you’re able to get from Social Security.
Filing for Social Security’s Divorced Spouse Benefits
If you think you’re eligible to claim divorced spouse benefits from Social Security, you can apply online if you’re 62 or older or within three months of turning 62. You can also start your application for divorced benefits online or in-person at a Social Security office.
You’ll need some key information to apply for a Social Security benefit for divorced spouses. That includes:
- Your name, Social Security number and gender
- Your birth name, date of birth and place of birth
- Citizenship status
- Whether a public or religious record was made of your birth before age 5
- Whether you’ve filed for Social Security benefits, Medicare or Supplemental Security Income or if anyone has done so on your behalf
- Any alternate Social Security numbers you’ve used
- Work status and whether you’ve been unable to work because of illness, injuries or other conditions at any time during the past 14 months
- Military service status
- Railroad industry employment status
- Whether you’ve earned Social Security credits under another country’s system
- Whether you qualify for or expect to receive a pension or annuity from federal employment
- Your current marital status
- Names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers for former spouses
- Dates and places of each your marriages and when you were divorced
- Names of unmarried children under age 18 or disabled before age 22
- Employer’s name and earnings for the current year, previous year and next year
- Month you want your benefits to begin
- Whether you want to enroll in Medicare Part B if you’re three months away from turning 65
You may also be asked for certain documents to prove your eligibility for Social Security divorced spouse benefits. That can include a birth certificate, proof of citizenship, military discharge papers, W-2s or other tax forms, your original marriage certificate and an official divorce decree.
The most important thing to remember is that the sooner you apply for benefits, the sooner you can get approved and start receiving them.
The Bottom Line
If you’re worried about how a Social Security benefit for a divorced spouse may affect your own benefits, the answer is not at all. And if you’re a divorced spouse who’s interested in seeking these benefits, it’s helpful to understand who qualifies and how to apply. Either way, it’s important to consider where Social Security benefits fit into your larger retirement planning picture.
Tips for Retirement Planning
- If you’re divorced, consider talking to a financial advisor about the best way to plan for Social Security. And if you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool makes it easy and convenient to connect with professional advisors in your local area. You can get personalized advisor recommendations online in just minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
- Use a free Social Security benefits calculator to estimate what you’re entitled to receive.
- While divorced spouse benefits won’t affect your retirement benefit amount, other things can. For example, claiming benefits at age 62 versus waiting until you reach full retirement age can reduce the amount you receive monthly. Your benefits could also be reduced if you haven’t reached full retirement age yet and you’re working while claiming Social Security. Waiting until age 70 to claim benefits, on the other hand, could significantly increase your benefit amount. So it’s important to have a strategy in mind to help you maximize your Social Security benefits.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Zinkevych, ©iStock.com/Bill Oxford, ©iStock.com/Inside Creative House