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Social Security and Divorce

Social Security and Divorce

Divorce can be a stressful and scary process and it is important to understand how your finances will be impacted immediately as well as in the future. Regardless of your or your spouse's age, social security is something you want to be sure you take into consideration and understand how divorce and social security works.

More and more women are in the workforce and yet, many may receive a larger Social Security benefit based on their spouses’ work record. The Social Security Administration will calculate your benefit amount, which is based upon whichever is the higher amount between you and your spouse’s earnings. However, there are fine points to consider.

Here are some of the questions you might keep in mind when going through the divorce process:

Can I still receive Social Security benefits without filing any special papers at the time of my divorce?

The answer is yes. You can still receive Social Security benefits without filing papers during the divorce and it doesn’t matter if your ex-spouse has remarried.

How many years must I be married to my ex-spouse in order for me to claim/collect the benefits based on his record?

You must have been married for 10 years or longer.

Am I still eligible to collect my ex-spouse’s benefits if I am currently married?

No. Generally, you cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ends (it can be either death, divorce or annulment).

In the case wherein you get re-married and your second spouse dies, you may be qualified to claim benefits from either your first spouse (provided that marriage lasted for 10 years or more), or from your second spouse as long as you were married at least 9 months before his death.

What is the earliest qualified age to collect the benefit from Social Security?

62 is the earliest age. However, there are some exceptions to this rule:

If your ex-spouse is deceased, at the age of 60 you can collect as the surviving divorced spouse.

If your ex-spouse is deceased and you are deemed disabled then even at the age of 50 you may claim from your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits.

My husband has not applied for benefits but he is already qualified; can I start receiving benefits?

Yes, if your ex-spouse is already 62 or older and you have been divorced for two or more years. Generally, you also must be age 62 or older to qualify to receive benefits.

If my ex-spouse already remarried and his new spouse is collecting benefits based on his record, will it reduce what I am receiving?

No, your benefits and his new spouse’s benefit do not in any way affect each other. Nor is your ex-spouse’s benefit affected by this scenario.

How much benefit am I entitled to receive?

As a rule you are eligible to receive one-half or fifty percent of your ex-spouse’s retirement benefit. If he passes away before you, then you are entitled to receive his full retirement benefit.

However, you should know that this benefit does not include any delayed retirement credits your deceased ex-spouse may receive. You are only entitled to receive a benefit amount based on the value of his benefit at his full retirement age. If you claim this benefit before your own full retirement age, the benefit amount will also be reduced.

Will my ex-spouse be notified when I start receiving benefits based on his work record?

No, your ex-spouse will not be notified in any way by the Social Security Administration.

What do I need to provide to Social Security to apply for benefits based on my ex-spouse’s record?

You need his Social Security number, your marriage certificate and your divorce decree. In the event you do not know his Social Security number you can provide his date and place of birth along with his parents’ names.

If I will collect benefits based on my ex-spouse’s record will I still be able to collect later based on my record?

Due to the recent changes to Social Security regulations, anyone who had turned 62 from January 2, 2016 or later who applies for benefit at full retirement age can no longer restrict their application to spousal (or ex-spousal) benefits only.

Therefore, now, the Social Security Administration will automatically give the beneficiary the highest benefit for which they are eligible. It could either be spousal benefit or it may be the benefit based on your own record.

Should you choose to delay claiming your own benefit to earn delayed credits you will not however receive spousal benefits in the meantime.

Can I still work and receive Social Security benefits?

You can get Social Security retirement or survivor benefits and work at the same time. However, if you make more than the yearly earnings limit Social Security has set and you are younger than the full retirement age, your benefits will then be reduced.

Let’s use this as an example: You are under the full retirement age and you are earning more than $17,040 (this is the annual earnings limit Social Security had set in 2018), Social Security will deduct $1 from your benefits payments for every $2 you earn above the limit.

When you reach your full retirement age, Social Security will no longer reduce your benefits no matter how much you earn.

Can my ex-spouse collect benefits based on my records?

The answer is yes.

Are Social Security benefits sent automatically?

No. You have to apply in order to receive benefits. You can apply online through or go down to your local Social Security Office to apply.

Divorce Financial Help

During divorce, it is a given that there are way too many questions on our mind and it is important you do not lose track of the most important details, particularly those affecting your finances.

Getting help from a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst can help you understand how choices you make during the divorce process will impact your immediate life and your future.

Take Control of Your Future

Whether relocating after a divorce is by choice or not, our team will help you plan for your move while keeping your financial well-being in mind. Kimberly Surber and Leslie Valant, both Certified Divorce Financial Analysts® can guide you in your financial decisions that will help transition you to your new life in your new location successfully.

Both Kimberly and Leslie provide step-by-step guidance on matters related to divorce. With a wide range of experience and expertise related to divorce issues, our team will simplify the process and provide much-needed clarity in areas such as long-term tax consequences, asset, and debt analysis, dividing pension plans, continued health care coverage, stock option elections, protecting support with life insurance, and much more.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for seeking legal advice from an attorney. For legal or tax advice please seek the services of a qualified attorney and/or qualified tax professional.


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