When someone considers filing for social security, I am often asked whether a divorced person is eligible to receive benefits from their former spouse’s social security record as well as from their own social security record. This is a common question and I wanted to share the different types of benefits as well as the requirements to obtain them.
In the case of a Divorced Spouse, the benefit comes from the ex-spouse’s social security record provided certain conditions are met. The former spouse must have been eligible to receive their own benefit for retirement or disability. To receive these benefits, your marriage must have lasted at least ten (10) years, you must have been divorced for at least two years, you must remain unmarried, and the age requirement is that you must be at least 62 years old. Additionally, the amount you would otherwise receive from your ex-spouse’s social security benefits would be higher than the amount of benefits you would receive from your own social security benefit. The caveat here is that if you remarry, then you are no longer entitled to divorced spouse benefits. There’s an exception however, where the subsequent marriage ends in divorce, death or annulment then you can become eligible for benefits again.
What happens if the divorced spouse who has worked and paid Social Security dies? Where the divorced spouse dies, the Surviving Divorced Spouse, could get benefits provided the marriage lasted at least ten (10) years and the deceased ex-spouse was fully insured upon death (having contributed to Social Security). Social Security has carved out an exception to the ten year marriage rule. According to Social Security, if you are Surviving Divorced Spouse taking care of a child under the age of 16 or disabled who is getting benefits on the former spouse’s social security record, then you do not have to satisfy the ten (10) year marriage rule.
Notice the age requirement for the Surviving Divorced Spouse. You must be at least 60 years of age to qualify or between the ages of 50 to 59 and disabled. If you are between the ages of 50 to 59, you have the additional component of proving that a disability exists that limits your ability to work. Lastly, you have to make sure that your own social security benefit would not be higher than the amount of benefit you would receive from your deceased divorced spouse’s benefit.
Unlike in Divorced Spouse benefits where remarrying (someone other than the former spouse) terminates the benefit, someone eligible for Surviving Divorced Spouse benefits can remarry and not run the risk of terminating the benefits.
How much will be paid out? The amount depends on the earnings of the deceased. At age 60, the surviving divorced spouse can receive 71.5% to 99% of the deceased spouse’s amount; at ages 50-59 the disabled surviving divorced spouse can receive 71 ½ %. And, a Divorced Spouse can receive up to 50%. For additional details see SSA.gov/pubs/10084.html