How to Claim Your Former Spouse’s Social Security Benefits

Social Security is intended to supplement to a person’s private retirement plan that people typically pay into over their lifetime. For couples that divorce, it is clear how a retirement account is distributed. However, unless spouses are past the age of retirement, it is not often clear how Social Security payments will be paid post-retirement. When spouses divorce, a former spouse is often entitled to a portion of their former spouse’s Social Security Retirement Benefits.

Entitlement to a Former Spouse’s Social Security Benefits

Following Divorce, a person may receive benefits on their former spouse’s record if:

  • They were married for at least 10 years
  • They are unmarried
  • They are 62 or older
  • Their former spouse is entitled to Social Security Retirement or Disability Benefits; and
  • The benefit they are entitled to receive based on their own work is less than the benefit they would receive based on their former spouse’s work.


What Benefits am I Entitled to?

When you are divorced, you are entitled to one-half of your former spouse’s full retirement benefit amount if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement age.

What Happens if My Former Spouse Remarries?

If your former spouse remarries, you are still entitled to benefits on your former spouse’s record.

What Happens to My Benefits if I remarry?

If you are claiming on your former spouses’ benefit, and you later remarry, you will lose the right to collect the benefit for the duration of your marriage. However, you may later re-collect your former spouse’s benefit in the event of divorce, death, or annulment of your marriage.

What Happens to my Social Security Benefits that I am Entitled to?

If you are entitled to Social Security Retirement benefits on your own, those will be paid out first.  Once those are paid out, if it is found that your former spouse’s benefits are higher, you will receive an additional amount on your former souse’s record so that the combination of the benefits equals the higher amount.

What if My Former Spouse Has Not Applied for Social Security Retirement Benefits?

If your former spouse has not applied for retirement benefits, but does in fact qualify for them, you may receive benefits on their record, as long as you have ben divorced for at least two continuous years.

What if I am currently working, am I still eligible?

Yes. If you are working, you are still able to receive retirement benefits on behalf of your former spouse. However, the retirement benefit earnings limit will apply. Therefore, the amount of the benefits received will be reduced until you reach full retirement age. Once you reach full-retirement age, the benefit amount will be recalculated to leave out months when the benefit was withheld or reduced due to excess earnings. This can result in a higher benefit in the future. Click here for more information or here for a Retirement Earnings Test Calculation.

What Happens if My Former Spouse is No Longer with Us?

As long as you meet the requirements above, you may still be entitled to the Social Security benefits as a Surviving Divorced Spouse. You will receive the same benefits as a Widow or Widower would, provided that your marriage lasted at least 10 years (an exception exists if you are caring for a child common to both you and former spouse that child is disabled, or under the age of 16). Additionally, if you remarry after the age of 60, the remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivor benefits.

What Information do I Need to Apply?

If you are applying for benefits based on a prior marriage, you will need the following documents to show you are eligible:

  • Birth Certificate/Other Proof of Birth
  • Proof of U.S. Citizenship or awful alien status if you were not born in the United States
  • S. military discharge paper(s) if you had military service before 1968;
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year.
  • Final divorce decree, if applying as a divorced spouse; and
  • Marriage certificate.

In addition, the Social Security Administration office will ask you a number of questions related to personal background info, Social Security benefits received, background information on your former spouse, as well as any other question necessary to process your request.

How do I Apply?

If you are within 3 months of turning 62, you may apply online.  Otherwise, you may apply over the phone (1-800-772-1213), or by visiting your local Social Security Office.