Facts about Social Security and Divorce

If you are divorced but were married for at least 10 years to someone who earned a higher income, you may qualify for a higher Social Security benefit based on your ex’s earnings record. An ex-spouse will receive the higher of either her own benefit or 50 percent of what the ex-spouse’s benefit is at his full retirement age. However, if the ex files for a spousal benefit before she reaches her own full retirement age, that benefit is reduced.

For those who were born before Jan. 2, 1954, another option is to file a restricted application at full retirement age. This enables the ex to receive benefits based on her former spouse’s record while her own benefit amount accumulates delayed retirement credits. She can switch over to her own higher benefit amount at any time up to age 70. This option no longer exists for those born Jan. 2, 1954 or later — if they file for one benefit that means they have filed for all retirement or spousal benefits.

An ex who remarries no longer qualifies to collect a living ex-spouse’s benefit. After a year of marriage, she may file for a spousal benefit based on her new spouse’s earnings record. However, she can draw from a former spouse’s benefit if her ex is deceased and she didn’t remarry until after age 60.

Note that if a divorced spouse, or even several divorced spouses, draw their benefit from the same ex, this in no way impacts the benefit of the higher earner or his current spouse.

It can be tricky for a divorced person to estimate her benefit because Social Security won’t quote her an amount based on her ex’s record. She can use a Social Security calculator to estimate the spousal benefit if she knows his birth date and can approximate his earnings over the years. Otherwise, she’ll have to ask him directly for his primary insurance amount (PIA) at full retirement age to estimate her own benefit.


1 Dana Anspach. The Balance. March 22, 2018. “Social Security Facts About Benefits for an Ex-Spouse.” https://www.thebalance.com/social-security-ex-spouse-2388947. Accessed April 5, 2018.

2 Social Security Administration. “Benefits Planner: Retirement – If You Are Divorced.” https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html. Accessed May 3, 2018.

3 Dana Anspach. The Balance. March 22, 2018. “Social Security Facts About Benefits for an Ex-Spouse.” https://www.thebalance.com/social-security-ex-spouse-2388947. Accessed April 5, 2018


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