• Retirement and Annuity Advisor Jennifer Lang

Divorced? What you need to know about your Social Security options

Updated: Feb 2


When couples marry, they dream of building a life together, retiring together and growing old together. Divorce changes plans, alters hopes and dreams, impacts finances and disrupts strategies for retirement. However, your Social Security options may not change as much as you expect. Starting a Social Security conversation with a financial professional can be both helpful and reassuring.


The good news

You will have virtually the same Social Security options that you were eligible for when you were married, provided you meet certain criteria. When spouses have substantial differences in their earnings, the lower-earning spouse can receive the higher of their own earned benefit or a spousal benefit — up to 50 percent of the higher-earning spouse’s full benefit amount at full retirement age (FRA). Divorced spouses who qualify can claim the same benefits on the ex-spouse’s earnings record (up to 50 percent of the ex-spouse’s benefit amount at FRA).



Retirement benefits

To qualify for this benefit, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • The marriage to your former spouse must have lasted at least 10 years. (This may apply to more than one prior marriage.)

  • You must be at least age 62.

  • You must be unmarried. It doesn’t matter if your former spouse has remarried or not. It also doesn’t matter if you remarried, as long as you are not married at the time of filing. Remarriage after filing for benefits means you can no longer claim benefits on your ex-spouse’s earnings record (although you may become eligible to claim spousal benefits on your new spouse’s record).

  • Your ex-spouse must be eligible for retirement benefits. (As long as the divorce has been final for at least two years, your ex-spouse doesn’t have to actually file for benefits first).

If you do end up claiming benefits on an ex-spouse’s earnings record, you can rest assured that your former spouse will not be notified. In addition, neither your ex-spouse nor your ex-spouse’s new family (if there is one) will be impacted by your filing choice.


Survivor benefits

The survivor benefits that are available to married spouses are also available to ex-spouses — again, assuming the marriage lasted 10 years or more. The benefits for surviving spouses and ex-spouses are generally 100 percent of the deceased’s benefit amount. To qualify for survivor benefits on an ex-spouse’s record, you must be one of the following:

  • Unmarried

  • Remarried, where the current marriage occurred after age 60

  • Remarried, where the current marriage occurred after age 50 and you are disabled

A vital conversation

If your earnings history is similar to your ex-spouse’s, you will simply rely on your personal earnings when you file for Social Security benefits. However, if you earned significantly less than your ex-spouse, you may have concerns about the possibility of more limited Social Security benefits. Starting a conversation with a financial professional can help you understand your benefits and filing options. Visit the Social Security Administration’s website at ssa.gov for more information.



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