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When it comes to divorce and social security, people can overlook whether they are entitled to receive benefits from their former spouse. These social security benefits may be critical to future financial and retirement planning for stay-at-home parents, spouses whose own careers took a backseat in the marriage to support the family, and others who earned less than their spouse throughout the marriage. Not to mention, who isn’t happy to receive a little extra financial boost?

If you meet certain criteria, you can apply directly to the Social Security Administration and receive benefits based on your former spouse’s social security record. You don’t receive their benefits AND you don’t get the benefits from them; you receive benefits based on their earnings straight from the Social Security Office. Let’s take a quick look at the eligibility criteria and parameters.

Receiving Social Security Benefits from An Ex: What are the Eligibility Criteria?

You should always speak with a divorce or a social security lawyer to see what benefits might apply in your situation. However, generally speaking, you are entitled to collect benefits on your ex-spouse’s social security record if:

● You have been divorced for at least two years;
● You are not married;
● You are sixty-two or older;
● Your ex-spouse is entitled to benefits; and
● Your own work-related benefits–if any–are less than your former spouse’s.

In some cases, you can start receiving benefits even if your ex-spouse has not yet applied for them. However, as always, the circumstances vary. Talk to your lawyer to see what your options are.

How Much is My Social Security Benefit Amount?

Generally, you can receive up to one-half of your ex’s full benefits if you meet the criteria listed above and wait until full retirement age to apply. However, you receive reduced benefits if you apply before full retirement age.

What exactly is “full retirement age”? The general rule of thumb is this: If you were born between 1938 and 1959, your full retirement age is between 65 and 67. If you were born after 1959, your full retirement age is 67.

Additionally, anyone born before January 2, 1954, can elect to collect only their ex’s benefit and delay receiving their own. This can be financially beneficial, since social security benefits increase 8% each year past full retirement age that they remain uncollected (until the applicant reaches age 70). Unfortunately, the option to claim on an ex-spouse’s record and delay receiving one’s own benefit is no longer available to anyone born after 1954.

Also, keep in mind that working while receiving benefits or having pension payments may impact the amount you receive.

An important note: If your ex-spouse passes away before you, and you are collecting on their record, you will begin receiving their full benefit. For example, say your ex’s full benefit is $3,000. When they are alive, if you are claiming on their record, the maximum benefit allowed is $1,500. If your ex passes, you will begin to receive a $3,000 benefit, just like married spouses.

What Happens to My Social Security If I Remarry?

Your right to collect your former spouse’s social security benefits terminates once you remarry. Nonetheless, if this remarriage ends–whether through death or divorce–your right to receive your prior spouse’s benefits is restored if the benefit you would receive from your first spouse’s work record is greater than your second spouse’s. In other words, if you were married and divorced more than once, and each marriage lasted the required 10 years, you are entitled to the higher of the two benefits, but not both.

Remarriage can also have an impact on receiving benefits from a deceased former spouse. You are disqualified from obtaining benefits if you remarry before age sixty (or age fifty if disabled). If you remarry after age sixty (or age fifty if disabled) you can still receive your former spouse’s benefits. Nonetheless, consider receiving benefits under your current spouse’s record if that sum is greater than the surviving spouse’s benefit, which would get you a larger amount.

On the other hand, if your ex-spouse remarries, and you are collecting benefits on their record, your social security benefit will not be affected at all. Your ex-spouse can remarry as many times as they want and, as long as you meet the eligibility criteria discussed earlier, you will continue to receive the same benefit amount.

Bottom Line: Seek the Help You Need Navigating A Landmine of Laws.

Access to a former spouse’s social security benefits can be critical to retirement finances. Maximizing benefits can be a confusing process, whether you are wading through questions regarding eligibility, benefit amounts, remarriage, or delaying benefits. Be sure to bring these questions to a trusted and experienced attorney when considering your divorce.


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