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How does divorce affect Social Security?

Monday, May 21, 2018

For couples ending their marriage, property division of retirement benefits is an important issue. However, a divorce does not necessarily end a spouse's right to Social Security from their former spouse.

Under certain conditions, a spouse may receive Social Security benefits on their former spouse's record if their former spouse is still alive. The marriage had to last at least 10 years and the spouse seeking these benefits must be unmarried. However, these spouses can receive benefits from a former spouse who remarried.

The retirement benefit based upon their former spouse's work record must be exceed their own record. The former spouse must also be eligible for Social Security disability or retirement benefits. The spouse seeking benefits can receive benefits even if the former spouse has not received them if the couple was divorced for at least two years.

If the spouse seeking these benefits is at full-retirement age, payments are made at 50 percent of what their ex-spouse may receive. This is like benefits provided if the couple was still married. These are reduced if the spouse seeking benefits from their ex-spouse is below retirement age.


A spouse may also seek benefits if their former spouse died. The spouse seeking benefits must be at least 60-year-old or 50 if they have a disability. The marriage had to last at least 10 years. The spouse's benefits cannot exceed their former deceased spouse's benefits. Spouses seeking benefits cannot remarry before reaching 60 or age 50 if they are disabled.

A spouse can receive benefits based upon their former spouse's record at any age if they are taking care of their ex-spouse's child who is under 16-years-old. These benefits continue until the child reaches 16 or no longer has a disability. The couple did not have to be married for 10 years.

Spouses who had multiple marriages and divorces may be eligible for benefits from their former spouses. Eligibility depends on the length of the marriages, among other things. Spouses cannot receive multiple benefits from several former spouses, however. Eligibility is not impacted if the former spouse remarried and their spouse is also entitled to benefits.

Social Security benefits are only one of the financial challenges that couples face during divorce. An attorney can assist a spouse seeking a fair and just decree that will cover their retirement.

Source: AARP, "Divorce and Social Security spousal benefits," By Stan Hinden, Accessed July 10, 2017

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