Social Security – Understanding Rules for Ex-Spouses

While a spouse may either be currently married or formerly married, Social Security only cares that the marriage was a long-term relationship. Social Security has always given both spouses and ex-spouses the claiming right to retirement benefits.

If you are divorced, you may still be entitled to claim a higher retirement benefit based on the work record of your ex-spouse—regardless of whether you are the ex-wife, the ex-husband, or a spouse in a same-sex marriage. The requirements vary, however, depending on whether your ex-spouse is currently of retirement age or has died.

Requirements to be met

If your former spouse is of retirement age, the following conditions must be met:

  • Your ex-spouse must currently be entitled to receive Social Security disability or retirement benefits;
  • You and your ex-spouse must have been married for at least 10 consecutive years prior to the divorce being finalized;
  • Both parties must be at least 62 years old before claiming as an ex-spouse;
  • You currently must not be married;
  • You are not entitled to a disability or retirement benefit based on a primary insurance amount (PIA) that is equivalent to or greater than one-half of your ex-spouse’s PIA.

If you meet these criteria and qualify as an ex-spouse, then you may be entitled to receive a retirement benefit which is half of your ex-spouse’s primary insurance amount if you claim at your full retirement age. Though you may opt to claim as early as 62 years of age, you will receive less than the amount you would be entitled to at full retirement age.

If your former spouse has died, the following conditions must be met:

  • Your ex-spouse was entitled to receive Social Security benefits;
  • You and your ex-spouse must have been married for at least 10 consecutive years prior to the divorce being finalized;
  • You are at least 60 years of age (or between 50 and 60 years of age and disabled);
  • You currently must not be married;
  • You are not entitled to a retirement benefit equivalent to or greater than 100 percent of your ex-spouse’s benefit.

If you satisfy the criteria above, you will be entitled to receive a full widower or widow’s benefits—an amount equivalent to 100 percent of your former spouse’s primary insurance amount. If you are below full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced for every month that you receive benefits below your full retirement age.

Remarriage and Social Security benefits

If your former spouse remarries and you do not, your Social Security entitlement remains unaffected. If your ex-spouse is married to another spouse for a minimum of 10 years and they get divorced, both you and the other spouse are entitled to collect an amount equivalent to one-half of your ex-spouse’s benefits.

If you were divorced but have since remarried, Social Security perceives you to be a spouse and no longer an ex-spouse. As such, your retirement benefits will now be based on the work history of your current spouse, regardless of whether your former or current spouse has the larger primary insurance amount.

If your current marriage ends in either divorce or the death of your spouse, then you are entitled to claim the higher benefit, whether it is your surviving spouse’s benefit or your first ex-spouse’s.