How Does a Divorce Affect One’s Social Security Benefit?

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF® | Reviewed by Editorial Team

Updated on December 22, 2022

Social Security Benefit With a Divorce

Social Security benefits constitute a major portion of income for most retirees in the U.S. today. And some of those benefits are available to divorced people as well.

In fact, if you are divorced, either you or your ex-spouse may be able to collect higher benefits than either of you could otherwise. Read on to find out the Social Security rules for divorcees.

Divorce Benefits

The first thing that you must understand is that you are not necessarily entitled to additional benefits if you have been divorced. There are a few conditions that you have to meet.

The first applicable factor is how much you make compared to your ex-spouse. If you make more than your ex-spouse, then you will not be able to collect any additional benefits. This is true even if you haven't filed for your benefits yet but are expected to receive more each month than your ex.

But if you are getting less each month than your spouse, then you may be able to collect an additional benefit based on your ex-spouse's work record.

If you are receiving a lower benefit than your ex-spouse, then there are a couple of additional characteristics that you'll have to meet.

One of them is that you have to have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years. Another is that you must currently be single, although your ex-spouse may be married again by now. You also have to be at least 62 years old in order to qualify for any additional benefits.

Ex-Spouse Divorce Benefits

If both you and your ex-spouse are now old enough to file for benefits but have not done so yet, then you can go ahead and file for your benefits based on your ex's work record as long as you have been divorced for at least two years.

And if you are able to collect benefits based on your own work record, then that money will be paid to you before any additional benefits are paid out. Then if it is determined that you are eligible for an ex-spousal benefit, you will receive that amount on top of your own benefit each month.

The exact amount that you receive will depend on the age at which you file for Social Security benefits. If you file at age 62, then you'll receive less than you would get if you waited until you reach your full retirement age. If you wait until you reach your full retirement age, then you'll receive half of the benefit that your ex-spouse would be entitled to if he or she files for benefits at their full retirement age.

It should also be noted that the higher-earning ex-spouse's benefits are not affected by having their ex claim benefits based on their own benefit. For example, if you are divorced and remarried and receive a higher monthly benefit than your ex, and your ex qualifies to file for benefits based on your own benefit, then your benefit will not be reduced as a result of this.


How Does a Divorce Affect an Individual's Social Security Benefit FAQs

What is Social Security?

Social Security is a governmental program that provides retirement benefits, disability income, survivor’s benefits and supplemental security income for those who are eligible.

Who is eligible for social security?

As a worker to be eligible for benefits you must be at least age 62 (or be disabled or blind), and you must have enough work credits to qualify for benefits.

How is social security taxed?

Taxes on your social security benefits will be based upon your combined income for the year. Combined income is defined as: Adjusted gross income + non-taxable interest income + ½ of your Social Security benefits. Based on your combined income for the year, 50% or 85% of your Social Security benefit could be subject to taxation for the year.

What's the difference between Medicare and Social Security?

Medicare is a publicly-available health insurance program, whereas Social Security is a governmental program that provides retirement benefits, disability income, survivor’s benefits and supplemental security income for those who are eligible.

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.

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