Social Security and Divorce: Guide to Divorced Spouse Benefits
December 5, 2023 · 3 min read
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If your ex-spouse receives Social Security Disability Insurance, and you were previously married for at least 10 years, you may be entitled to a portion of their monthly Social Security benefits.
Learn more about the SSDI program’s provision for family benefits and how to qualify for spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record.
What are divorced spouse Social Security benefits?
Social Security divorced spousal benefits are monthly payments for individuals who were previously married to someone eligible for Social Security retirement or disability benefits. After divorce, you may still be entitled to receive a portion of your ex-spouse’s monthly payments. There are strict eligibility criteria for divorced spousal benefits.
If you are divorced, you can receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings if:
Your ex-spouse is entitled to SSDI or retirement benefits
Your marriage lasted at least 10 years
You are at least 62 years old
You are unmarried
Your benefits on your own Social Security record are lower than the potential divorced spouse benefits
If your ex-spouse qualifies for benefits but never applied, you can apply on their behalf and collect benefits if you’ve been divorced for at least two years.
Can divorced spouses get SSI benefits?
No, if your ex-spouse receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you are not eligible for divorced spouse benefits. You’ll need to apply for benefits on your own, not on behalf of your ex-spouse.
SSI is a different program than SSDI. Both of these federal programs pay benefits to people who can no longer work due to a disability. But while SSDI pays benefits to people who have worked and paid taxes for at least five out of the past 10 years, SSI is intended for low-income individuals and does not depend on your work history.
How much are Social Security divorced spouse benefits?
A divorced spouse can receive up to 50 percent of their ex-spouse’s full retirement benefit. The exact amount depends on several factors, primarily the ex-spouse’s earnings record. The higher your ex-spouse’s earnings, the higher your potential divorced spousal benefits.
It’s important to note the divorced spouse must claim benefits at their full retirement age to receive the maximum benefit amount. Claiming benefits before age 67 can result in a reduced benefit amount.
How to apply for divorced spouse benefits
You can apply for divorced spousal benefits if you and your ex-spouse meet the eligibility requirements. If you are within three months of age 62, which is the earliest age you can claim retirement benefits, you can apply for divorced spouse benefits online at ssa.gov or visit your local SSA office.
For your application, it can be helpful to prepare the following documents:
Birth certificate or other proof of birth
Proof of U.S. citizenship
Final divorce decree
W-2 forms and/or self-employment taxes for last year
6 common questions about divorced spousal benefits
The process of applying for divorced spousal benefits can be confusing. Here are some answers to common questions:
Can I collect divorced spouse benefits if my ex-spouse never applied?
If your ex-spouse never applied for Social Security benefits, but they are eligible, you can apply on their behalf. To collect benefits, you must be divorced for at least two years.
Can I receive both my ex-spouse’s benefits and my own?
If you are eligible for Social Security benefits on your own record, your benefit amount must be less than the benefits you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s earnings to collect divorced spousal benefits.
If I remarry, can I still collect divorced spousal benefits?
No, if you remarry, you are ineligible to receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s Social Security record. You might be able to collect divorced spousal benefits if your subsequent marriage ends in divorce or if your spouse dies.
Do I need to inform my ex-spouse that I’m applying for divorced spousal benefits?
No, there is no requirement to inform your ex-spouse that you are applying for divorced spousal benefits.
If I collect Social Security benefits, will that affect my ex-spouse’s benefits?
No, if you collect benefits on your own Social Security record, it will not affect your ex-spouse or their new spouse’s benefits. The calculations for benefits are separate.
How might other benefits affect divorced spousal benefits?
If your ex-spouse receives other benefits, it can impact the Suppose your ex-spouse will also receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security (for example, government or foreign work). In that case, the Social Security benefit on the recipient’s record may be offset.
Get help applying for divorced spousal benefits
Typically, applying for divorced spousal benefits does not require legal assistance. But if you or your ex-spouse is applying for disability benefits, a qualified disability attorney can help navigate the application process.
Atticus offers free legal advice for disability applicants, at every step of the process. Get started by taking our 2-minute disability benefits quiz. If desired, we can also match you up with a lawyer, with no upfront costs.
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Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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