When considering the unfortunate reality that about 50% of marriages end in divorce, many people who are at or nearing retirement find themselves in the position of figuring out the Social Security benefits they are entitled to as a divorced spouse.

With hundreds of available options, knowing the ins and outs of the full array of Social Security benefits is not easy. It’s hard enough for singles to know the best time to claim their benefits; for those who are divorced, it can be even more complicated.

Of all the questions people have about benefits for divorced spouses, these are some of the most common.

1. Am I Eligible for Benefits off of My Divorced Spouse’s Record?

If you are currently divorced, over the age of 62 and were married for at least 10 years, you will be eligible to claim benefits off of your ex-spouse’s record. Even if your ex-spouse hasn’t started claiming their benefits, you can still claim off of their record—as long as you have been divorced for at least two years. However, if your ex-spouse was collecting Social Security benefits prior to the divorce, the two-year waiting period no longer applies.

2. How Does Age Affect Benefits for Divorced Spouses?

You may be eligible for up to 50% of your ex-spouse’s full retirement age (FRA) benefits. There are, however, two caveats that you need to keep in mind.

First, you must wait until you reach your own FRA (66 or 67, depending on the year you were born) to receive the full 50% of your ex-spouse’s benefits. You can begin claiming off of your ex-spouse’s record as early as age 62, but if you do so, you will receive permanently reduced benefits. Furthermore, unlike your personal benefits that increase through age 70, benefits for divorced spouses don’t increase beyond FRA, so if you want to claim those benefits, there’s no advantage for delaying past FRA.

The second consideration, as a general rule, is that both you and your ex-spouse must be at least age 62 before you can begin claiming off of your ex-spouse’s record. For example, let’s say that you were the higher-earning spouse and are currently age 55 and your ex-spouse is age 70. Your ex-spouse would have to wait seven years for you to reach age 62 before being able to switch from their record to your own.

3. What If My Ex-Spouse or I Remarry?

If your ex-spouse remarries, you will still be able to claim off of their record, assuming you are eligible to do so. Claiming off of your ex-spouse’s record will have no impact on their benefits, nor will it affect the benefits their new spouse may be entitled to. However, if you remarry, you will no longer be able to receive benefits off of your ex-spouse’s record, as your spousal eligibility will transfer to your new spouse.

4. What If My Ex-Spouse is Deceased?

As long as the marriage lasted longer than 10 years, you can qualify for survivor benefits. These entitle you to the deceased’s full benefits, but in order to get the full amount, you have to wait until FRA to claim them. You can claim survivor benefits as early as age 60 (age 50 for those with a disability), but you will receive permanently reduced benefits. And unlike when your ex-spouse was still living, remarrying after age 60 (age 50 if you are disabled) will not affect your eligibility for survivor benefits. In other words, if you are at FRA and have just remarried, you are still eligible for 100% of your deceased spouse’s full benefits.

5. What If I Still Have More Questions?

This is not an exhaustive list of the questions you may face when preparing to claim Social Security benefits as a divorced spouse. Furthermore, depending on your situation, there may be unique claiming strategies you can utilize to help maximize your benefits. Additionally, the passage of the SECURE Act created even more considerations for divorced spouses when it comes to retirement planning.

To maximize your benefits, it's a good idea to speak with a financial advisor. They can help navigate the complexities of Social Security and help you understand all of the benefits to which you may be entitled.

Ryan McKeown

Ryan McKeown

Senior Vice President, Financial Advisor

CFP®, CPA, Series 7 Securities Registration,1 Series 66 Advisory Registration,† Insurance License As a Certified Public Accountant and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, Ryan brings an extensive tax and retirement income planning background to Wealth Enhancement Group. He helps lead the Tax Strategies group of our Roundtable team of specialists and is a frequent guest on our weekly “Your Money” radio program....Read More