Disability, General Questions, Retirement, Survivors

Ex-Spouse Benefits and You

May 14, 2015 • By

A worried woman holds her ring finger- she's been through a divorce.No doubt about it — thinking of an ex-spouse can be emotional. And, if your finances have changed for the worse since the breakup, even more emotions can surface.

We have news that may relieve some of your stress…

If you are age 62, unmarried, and divorced from someone entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you may be eligible to receive benefits based on his or her record.

There are other rules, of course. You must have been married to your ex-spouse for 10 years or more. If you’ve remarried, you can’t collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ended by annulment, divorce, or death. Also, if you’re entitled to benefits on your own record, your benefit amount must be less than you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work. In other words, we’ll pay the higher of the two benefits for which you’re eligible, but not both.

You can apply for benefits on your former spouse’s record even if he or she hasn’t retired, as long as you have been divorced at least two years before applying. After you reach full retirement age, you can elect to receive only the divorced spouse benefits and delay benefits on your own record, which may mean a higher monthly amount for you. If you decide to wait until full retirement age to apply as a divorced spouse, your benefit will be equal to half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement or disability benefit amount.

The same rules apply for a deceased former spouse. The amount of benefits you get has no effect on the benefits your ex-spouse or his or her current spouse receives. If your ex-spouse died after you divorced, you can still qualify for widow’s benefits.

Our Benefits Planner gives you an idea of your monthly benefit amount. If your ex-spouse died after you divorced, you can still qualify for widow’s benefits. Visit Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced to find all the eligibility requirements you must meet to apply as a divorced spouse.

We hope this news adds some joy to the range of emotions you feel when thinking of your “Ex”!

 

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Doug Walker, Deputy Commissioner, Communications

Deputy Commissioner, Office of Communications

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  1. Debra Woods

    I am 62 and still working. It isn’t 2 yrs yet since my divorce. When can I apply on my ex’s SS since we were married over 17 yrs., and I am single? Is it true that I have to wait for him to file before I can?

    Reply
    • Vonda

      Hi Debra, thank you for your questions. You may be able to get divorced spouse’s benefits but, under existing law, if you’re eligible for benefits both as a retired worker and as a divorced spouse, you must apply for both benefits and you’ll receive the higher of the two benefits. This requirement is called “deemed filing” because when you apply for one benefit you are “deemed” to have also applied for the other.

      You can get Social Security retirement benefits and work at the same time. However, there is a limit to how much you can earn and still receive full benefits. The amount you’re allowed to earn while receiving benefits depends on your age. If you attain full retirement age in 2021, the earnings limit is $50,520 but we only count earnings before the month you reach full retirement age. Beginning with the month you reach full retirement age, earnings no longer reduce your benefits, no matter how much you earn. If you’re under full retirement age for the entire year, then we deduct $1 from benefit payments for every $2 earned above the annual limit. For 2021, that limit is $18,960.

      If your ex-spouse qualifies for retirement benefits but hasn’t applied, you may be able to receive benefits on their record if you have been divorced for at least two years.

      Your benefit as a divorced spouse can be equal to one-half of your ex’s full retirement amount only if you start receiving those benefits at your full retirement age. If you begin to receive benefits at age 62 or prior to your full retirement age, your benefits are reduced. The reduction factors are permanently applied to all of the benefits you qualify for once you opt to start benefits at age 62 or at any time prior to your full retirement age.

      Remember, if you qualify for your own retirement benefits and for benefits as a divorced spouse, we always pay your own retirement benefits first. If your benefits as a divorced spouse are higher than your own retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher divorced spouse benefit. However, the divorced spouse’s benefit cannot exceed one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount (not the reduced benefit amount). So, you can only receive additional benefits if your own full retirement benefit (not your reduced benefit) is less than half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement benefit.

      Check out our Benefits for a Divorced Spouse web page for other eligibility requirements and more detailed information.

      Reply
      • Ethel Butler

        I would like to know ssa rules on divorce. I am receiving ssdi. I am divorce was married for over 20 years my xspouse is collecting ssdi. Can I get divorce spouse benefits his ssa payments more then mine.
        xspouse started collecting in 2012.

        Reply
        • Vonda

          Hi Ethel, thanks for using our blog. If you are divorced, you may be able to receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record if:

          – The marriage lasted 10 years or longer.
          – You’re unmarried.
          – You’re age 62 or older.
          – The benefit that you’re entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on their work.
          – Your ex is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

          Check out our Benefits For Your Divorced Spouse web page for more information. We hope this helps!

          Reply
  2. Beth Bigelow

    My husband’s ex is requesting his social security. She is turning 62 and filing for social security benefits. Can she collect on his social security if she has been remarried for about as long as he and I have been married (20 years)?

    Reply
  3. J Sommers

    I was divorced my first husband after 11 years of marriage.
    I was married to my 2nd husband for 22 years. Two years we signed a legal separation instead of a divorce so I could stay on his insurance. Can I apply for my 1st husbands social security if I am legally separated from my 2nd husband?I plan to retire in 3 years.

    Reply
    • Vonda

      Hi J Sommers, thanks for using our blog. You must be unmarried to be eligible for divorced spouse’s benefits. You can apply for spouse’s benefits on your current spouse’s record if you’re eligible. Check out our Benefits For Your Divorced Spouse web page for more information. We hope this helps!

      Reply
  4. Marcia Meerman

    I was married for 23 years. I still have a few years before retirement, so do I have to apply for benefits in order to find out if my ex-spouse’s ss benefit is going to be higher than mine? Is there another way to learn this information other than applying.

    Reply
    • Vonda

      Hi Marcia, thanks for using our blog. Your benefit as a divorced spouse can be equal to one-half of your ex’s full retirement amount only if you start receiving those benefits at your full retirement age. If you begin to receive benefits at age 62 or prior to your full retirement age, your benefits are reduced. The reduction factors are permanently applied to all of the benefits you qualify for once you opt to start benefits at age 62 or at any time prior to your full retirement age.

      Remember, if you qualify for your own retirement benefits and for benefits as a divorced spouse, we always pay your own retirement benefits first. If your benefits as a divorced spouse are higher than your own retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher divorced spouse benefit. However, the divorced spouse’s benefit cannot exceed one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount (not the reduced benefit amount). So, you can only receive additional benefits if your own full retirement benefit (not your reduced benefit) is less than half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement benefit.

      Check out our Benefits for a Divorced Spouse web page for other eligibility requirements and more detailed information.

      You can call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance or you can call your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

      Reply

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