Social Security Benefits After Divorce

Divorced spouses also may be eligible to collect Social Security retirement benefits based on their ex-spouse’s work record. The divorced spouse is generally eligible to collect benefits if the divorced spouse: 

  • is sixty-two or older,
  • is unmarried,
  • was married to the worker for at least ten years, and
  • is not entitled to benefits, on own or another account, that exceeds one-half the worker’s primary benefit amount. 

The wage-earning spouse doesn’t have to be retired and actually drawing benefits; he or she just has to be eligible for retirement benefits. 

The impact of divorce on Social Security retirement benefits is very different From its impact on pension benefits. A worker with a pension is eligible for a certain amount of money in benefits. If a court order these benefits split between the parties, the worker’s share will go down. 

With Social Security retirement benefits, a divorced spouse’s eligibility does not affect the amount the worker is entitled to. The worker will collect that amount whether he or she has no eligible spouse, an eligible ex-spouse, or even four ex-spouses, all eligible to collect based on their work record. That’s one reason establishing eligibility for a divorced spouse is normally not difficult. It doesn’t require a court appearance or even notification to the worker. It simply requires presenting the appropriate documentation to the Social Security Administration. Documentation would normally include proof of: 

  • identity,
  • each party’s age and Social Security number,
  • marriage, and
  • divorce (must be a complete divorce, not a separation or an annulment). 

Generally, original documents are best, but certified copies will do.  A divorced spouse also may be eligible for benefits on account of a deceased wage earner if the wage earner would have been eligible for benefits if alive. Requirements are similar to those outlined above, except that the surviving divorced spouse must be at least sixty (or at least fifty and disabled or be caring for a child who is also eligible to receive benefits on the deceased wage earner’s account). The surviving divorced spouse can remarry without loss of benefits after age sixty (age fifty if disabled). The amount of the benefit is approximately equal to the wage earner’s primary benefit amount. As with retirement benefits, more than one person can make collect. Applicants will need the documents outlined above, along with proof of the wage earner’s death and, if applicable, of disability. 

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