Just Scratching the Surface -Divorce and Social Security

For those of you who are divorced, you may have some Social Security eligibility options that you don’t even know about. Everyone’s case is different. But, in this article, I have touched on some of the most general eligibility rules for those of you who are divorced.

Please read the footnotes too. There are lots of potential disqualifying events. 

Can I claim Social Security benefits based on my ex-spouse’s earnings? 

In many cases, if all 5 requirements below are met, a divorced party can qualify as a dependent for Social Security purposes. As a dependent, you may be entitled to 50 percent[1] of your former spouse’s benefits. 

So,  if your former spouse has reached full retirement age and he/she is still alive, to qualify for one-half of your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits, all of the following conditions must be met: 

  1. Your ex-spouse is now entitled to receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits
  2. You and your ex-spouse had been married for at least 10 years before the divorce became final
  3. You are not currently married
  4. You are age 62 [2]or older
  5. You aren’t entitled to collect a retirement or disability benefit based on a PIA[3] that equals (or exceeds) one-half of your ex-spouse’s PIA 

Example: Assume John has retired and collects $1000 per month in Social Security benefits. If he was married to Jean for at least 10 years before he divorces her, Jean can collect $500/month (one-half of John’s benefit) when she reaches age 65. Note that Jean will have the option to take the Social Security benefits she earned in her own name. Of course, she’ll choose the higher figure. 

What if one or both of us has remarried?  

If your ex-spouse gets remarried and you don’t, your Social Security entitlement will be unaffected. If your ex-spouse is married to a second spouse for at least 10 years and then they get a divorce, you and that second spouse will each be entitled to collect an amount equal to one-half of the former spouse’s benefits (assuming that you each meet the requirements set forth above).

If you’re the one who remarries, you would then look to your current spouse’s PIA in computing your dependent Social Security benefit. However, if you worked for a sufficient period of time, you may be entitled to a larger benefit amount computed based on your own earnings record.[4] 

I know that many of you may think that understanding Social Security eligibility is easy. But, if the number of footnotes for this short article is any clue, you’ve already guessed that determining Social Security eligibility is neither easy nor straightforward. There are many qualifying events and specific guidelines that will be used to determine eligibility including: the age of recipients,  the number of  years you were married, number of years you’ve been divorced, if there are children, the ages of the children, if the ‘wage earner’ is alive or deceased etc. 

So, always check directly with the Social Security Administration to see what benefits you may be entitled to. And, take the time to understand the advantages and disadvantages (penalties) of each option that you may have.

 Jane Nowak is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ specializing in , Women’s Retirement,  Financial Planning for Women and AT&T Retirement Plans. Located in the Smyrna, Marietta, Vinings area of Atlanta, GA, Jane’s goal is to educate and help her clients to take control of their daily finances so they can fully fund their retirement dreams and needs. Jane has recently been quoted in articles or published  on-line at the: NASDAQ, Yahoo Finance, Womenetics.com, Smart Money Chicks, Fox Business News, CreditCards.com, U.S. News and World Report and Financial Planning Association (FPA) websites. She can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter as @MoneyGal2020.

 Securities offered through Triad Advisors, Inc. Member, FINRA/SIPC



[1] Note: That this entitlement doesn’t reduce your ex-spouse’s benefits by one-half; rather, this merely establishes the amount of money you may collect. For basic information about the Social Security program and for detailed treatment of Social Security rules, see Social Security.

[2] Note: If you’re age 62 or older and you’ve been divorced for at least two years, you can receive Social Security benefits immediately (based on your former spouse’s earnings) regardless of whether that spouse has chosen to retire or has submitted an application for Social Security benefits. This, of course, is assuming that the other four requirements listed above have been satisfied. However, if you choose to receive benefits at age 62 instead of your normal retirement age, the benefit that you would have received at your normal retirement age will be reduced by at least 25 percent (assuming you don’t have a dependent child who’s entitled to benefits on the deceased spouse’s Social Security record). In other words, if you choose to receive reduced benefits at age 62, you will not be entitled to collect full benefits when you reach your full retirement age.  Jane’s comment: Be aware of the penalty!

[3] The “primary insurance amount” (PIA) is the benefit (before rounding down to next lower whole dollar) a person would receive if he/she elects to begin receiving retirement benefits at his/her normal retirement age. At this age, the benefit is neither reduced for early retirement nor increased for delayed retirement.

[4] Portions of this text were excerpted from material provided by Forfield Advisor


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