Social Security And Divorce: What You Need To Know

Although more and more women are in the workforce, many can still receive a larger Social Security benefit based on their husband or ex-husband’s work record than they can on their own. When you decide to take those retirement benefits, the Social Security Administration will calculate the benefits for which you are eligible—your own as a worker, yours as a spouse or ex-spouse (or widow or ex-widow).

You will always receive the amount of the highest benefit for which you qualify—not the benefits added together.

The good news is that a divorced woman can receive Social Security benefits without filing any special papers at the time of divorce, and it doesn’t matter if her ex-husband has remarried.

A divorced woman must meet certain criteria to collect benefits based on her ex-husband’s work record:

You must have been married for 10 years or longer.

You must not be currently married.

If you re-married and your second spouse is deceased, you qualify to claim benefits from either your first or your second husband as long as each marriage lasted at least 10 years.

You will receive whichever benefit amount is higher.

You must be age 62 or older.

If your former husband is deceased, you may collect benefits as early as age 60 as a surviving divorced spouse.

If he is deceased and you are disabled, you can collect as early as age 50.

Do I have to wait for him to start collecting benefits?

If your ex-husband has not applied for benefits, but can qualify for benefits and is age 62 or older, you can start receiving benefits if you have been divorced for two or more years.

How much of his benefit will I receive?

In general, you will receive one-half of his retirement benefit. If he should die before you, you will receive his full retirement benefit.

Your full retirement age will also affect the benefit amount you receive.

If you take any benefit before your full retirement age, the benefits you receive will be reduced. (So, that 50 percent of your former spouse’s benefit or that 100 percent of your deceased spouse’s benefit could be reduced if you decide to take it at age 62 or 63.)

The age for full retirement has been gradually increasing from 65 to 67 based on a person’s birth year. To find out your full retirement age, go to

If his second wife is collecting benefits based on his record, will that reduce my benefits?
No. Neither will your taking a benefit reduce or in any way affect the second wife’s benefit or your ex-husband’s benefit.

Will he be notified in any way that I am receiving benefits based on his work record?
No, the Social Security Administration will not notify him.

How do I apply for benefits on my ex-husband’s record?
You can apply for benefits on-line by going to You can apply on the phone by calling 800-772-1213 or you can find your local office by going to and making an appointment. To apply for benefits on your ex-husband’s work record, you will need to know his Social Security number. If you don’t’ know it, you can provide his date and place of birth and his parents’ names.

Can he collect benefits based on my work record?
Yes. Social Security is gender neutral. All of this information applies to ex-husbands as well as ex-wives.

Can I collect benefits for our children if my ex-husband dies?
Yes, if you are raising his child or children, you may receive benefits for their care until they are age 16. Then they can receive benefits based on your ex-husband’s work record until they are 18, or 19 and still in high school full-time. Older children can receive benefits if they are disabled.

Don’t Forget:
You must apply for Social Security benefits. You can do so by going on-line to, calling 800-772-1213, or making an appointment with your local office.

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