After a divorce, are you eligible for your ex’s Social Security benefits?

If you’re among the hundreds of thousands of couples who divorce each year, you may be wondering if you’ll be eligible to collect Marital Security benefits on your ex’s work record.

The answer: it depends.

“There are similarities and differences in the eligibility rules for regular spousal benefits and those for divorced spousal benefits,” says Kurt Czarnowski, principal of Czarnowski Consulting, a retirement planning firm.

But first, the rules.

You, the ex-spouse, can receive benefits based on your ex’s record (even when he’s remarried) if:

  • Your marriage lasted 10 years or more.

  • Are not you married.

  • You are 62 or older.

  • The benefit you are eligible to receive based on your work is less than the spousal benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.

  • You are eligible for Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

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Also worth knowing: If your ex hasn’t claimed retirement benefits, but may qualify for them, you can receive benefits on the ex’s record if you’ve been divorced for at least two consecutive years.

And, if you’re eligible for retirement benefits on your record, Social Security will pay that amount first. But if your ex’s benefit on record is higher than he is, you’ll get an additional amount on your record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount.

Social security benefits

As for the differences and similarities between regular spousal benefits and divorced spousal benefits, Czarnowski says the biggest similarity comes from doing away with the old “claim a little now; claim more later” strategy.

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Marital benefits and full retirement age

Under that strategy, someone who had reached full retirement age had the option of applying for spousal or divorcing benefits and deferring collecting their pension until later, Czarnowski says.

Now, anyone born on or after January 2, 1954 no longer has this option and must always take their pension first.

The Social Security Administration will compare the person’s Full Retirement Age amount today to 50 percent of the spouse’s or ex-spouse’s Full Retirement Age amount, and if the person’s Full Retirement Age amount exceeds 50 percent of the other, then the person collects solely based on their work record, says Czarnowski.

Marital benefits vs. divorced

Other eligibility rules are basically the same. But there are, however, a couple of notable differences between eligibility for spousal and divorced benefits, the most significant being the length of the marriage requirement, says Czarnowski.

“To pay divorced spousal benefits, the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, whereas only one year of marriage length must be met before spousal benefits can be paid,” she says.

The other major difference is that spousal benefits cannot be paid unless the other member of the couple is actually collecting their pension.

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If you're among the hundreds of thousands of couples who divorce each year, you may be wondering if you'll be eligible to collect your spouse's Social Security benefits on your ex's employment record.

If you’re among the hundreds of thousands of couples who divorce each year, you may be wondering if you’ll be eligible to collect Marital Security benefits on your ex’s work record.

“With divorced spousal benefits, however, payments can be made even if the ex hasn’t yet started collecting, as long as both individuals are over 62 and the divorce has been final for at least two years,” she says.

Czarnowski says it’s important to distinguish between benefits for a “divorced spouse,” that is, the ex is still alive, and benefits for what the Social Security Act calls “surviving divorced spouse,” that is, the ex is now deceased.

“Now, in both cases, the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years for benefits to be paid,” she says. “But to collect as a divorced spouse, the person cannot be remarried,” and if she remarries she immediately loses eligibility, she adds. lose eligibility as long as they (were) over 60 at the time of marriage.

The rate of payment for a divorced surviving spouse is the same as for regular survivor benefits. “

This means that the person will be eligible to collect 100% of the amount the deceased ex-spouse was collecting at the time of death, or would have collected if they had started receiving benefits the month of the death,” Czarnowski says. Just as with regular survivor benefits, a surviving divorced spouse has the option of sequencing the collection, in other words collecting into one account and then switching to the other at a later date.”

Now, this is different from spousal or divorced spousal benefits where the person is always required to take their benefit first, Czarnowski says. But what is not different is that the person collects one amount or the other at a time, not both at the same time.

One final similarity, Czarnowski says, is that the full retirement age is the same for a survivor and a surviving divorced spouse, but the full retirement age may be different than the age for retirement benefits, Czarnowski says.

Robert Powell is the editor and editor of Retirement Daily at TheStreet. Follow him on Twitter at @retirementpedia. Email money inquiries to

This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: Social Security Eligibility for Divorced Spousal Benefits

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