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Divorce and Social Security Benefits: What You Need to Know

Divorce and Social Security Benefits: What You Need to Know

While you may think all ties have been severed between you and your ex, one link may still exist – and that’s your Social Security benefits1. Depending on if you meet the 5 necessary criteria, you may be entitled to up to half of your ex’s benefits if they are higher than your own. Choosing to take your benefits as an ex-spouse could mean thousands over the course of your retirement, so don’t overlook it!

The 5 Criteria You Must Meet

To receive Social Security benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, the following conditions must be met:

1. Your marriage must have lasted 10 years or longer.
2. You are currently unmarried.
3. You are age 62 or older.
4. Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
5. Your own benefit that you are entitled to receive is less than the benefit you are entitled to receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.

After meeting the five main criteria, one additional criteria to note is that if you ex-spouse has not yet applied for retirement benefits, but will be eligible in the future, then to receive benefits on his/her record you must have been divorced for at least two years.

How Much of Your Ex’s Benefit will You Receive?

Generally, you will receive one-half of your ex-spouse’s retirement benefit if it is greater than your own and you begin collecting at your full retirement age (FRA). If your ex-spouse dies before you, you are eligible to receive his or her full retirement benefit.

Here’s an example: Let’s say at your full retirement age, your benefit is $800 per month. Your ex-spouse’s benefit is $2,000 per month. If you receive benefits on their record instead of your own, you’ll receive $1,000 per month, or $200 more than you would by just taking your own benefit. To give you even more perspective, let’s say you’re collecting social security benefits from age 66 to 90. By taking your ex-spousal benefits, you’ll receive $57,600 more over that 24 year period than if you had taken benefits on your own record.

Just remember, if you take any benefit before your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced. Be sure to check for your FRA, as it is based on your birth year.

What if Your Ex-Spouse is Remarried?

If your ex-spouse is remarried and their current spouse is collecting benefits on his/her record, your benefits will not be reduced. Your ex-spouse will also not be notified that you are collecting benefits on their record, if that’s something that concerns you.

Don’t Expect to be Notified

While this Social Security strategy may be a great opportunity, don’t expect the Social Security office to offer up information on what ex-spousal benefits you are entitled to. It will be your responsibility to make an appointment with the Social Security office, either by phone or in person, and provide supporting documents to prove you were in fact married to your ex-spouse and are officially divorced. A comprehensive list of what you will need to bring to your meeting and the questions that will be asked can be found here

Talk with Your Financial Advisor

Opportunities like this are why it’s so important to discuss your social security strategy with your financial advisor before you apply. You could miss out on thousands of dollars over the course of your retirement if you don’t know all of your benefit options. At Walsh & Associates, we encourage all of our clients to talk to us before applying for their social security benefits as part of our comprehensive financial planning approach.

Wondering about your own social security strategy? If you do not have a plan and are approaching retirement, we encourage you to give us a call.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.


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