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Can I Apply for an Ex-Spouse's Social Security Benefit?

divorce and social security
divorce and social security

Marriage can affect how you do your taxes, make money and plan for retirement. If your marriage ends, it’s important to know the rules regarding divorce and Social Security. Who’s eligible for what benefits, how much can you collect and what about if there’s another marriage? These are all things to consider after a divorce as you look towards retirement to determine what Social Security benefits you’re eligible for. Social Security is just one part of retirement planning, and you may want to consider working with a financial advisor to create a full financial plan.

Who Is Eligible for Social Security Divorced Spouse Benefits?

An important thing to know about divorce and Social Security is that a divorce doesn’t end Social Security eligibility for the ex-spouse. If you’ve devoted a long time to a person, you can still receive Social Security benefits on their work record if certain criteria are met.

Here are the government’s requirements for filing for Social Security on your ex-spouse’s work record:

  • You’re at least 62 years old and not currently married.

  • You’re divorced from someone who is entitled to Social Security benefits.

  • You were married to that person for at least 10 years before the divorce was finalized.

  • You’re not entitled to higher retirement or disability benefits.

If you meet these requirements, you can file a claim without your ex-spouse knowing it. All you need is proof of the marriage. It won’t affect their payout and they don’t even have to be currently collecting their benefits.

If you file for benefits at full retirement age, you will receive half of your ex-spouse’s retirement amount or disability benefit. If you decide to file earlier, your benefit will be reduced.

On top of this, if you reach full retirement age and were born before Jan. 2, 1954, you can choose to receive your ex-spouse’s benefits, delaying your own. This will mean a higher monthly payout when you apply it to your own work record.

What If You Have Your Own Work Record?

You can’t collect two work records at the same time. If you’re eligible for Social Security benefits from your ex-spouse, as well as from your own work record, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay out whichever of the two is higher. You’ll typically receive your own benefits and then if your ex-spouse’s benefits would net you more you will receive an additional amount to make up the difference.

What If There’s More Than One Marriage?

If you’ve been married and divorced more than once, you can choose which work record to collect. Remember, each marriage will have to meet the requirements listed above. Also, you can’t collect multiple ex-spouse work records so you will have to make the choice of whichever you think can earn you more benefits.

What If There Are Multiple Ex-Spouses?

What are the rules around divorce and Social Security when multiple ex-spouses are trying to file on the same person’s work record? For example, say your ex-husband has another ex-spouse who is eligible for Social Security on his work record. Will you be competing for the benefit? Fortunately, that’s not how it works. Both ex-spouses who qualify will be granted the Social Security benefit.

What If Your Ex-Spouse Isn’t Yet Collecting? 

Regardless of whether your ex-spouse has started to collect their Social Security benefits, you can still qualify for benefits on their earnings record. You must have been divorced for at least two years but if you meet the other requirements to get your own benefits then it doesn’t matter if your ex-spouse has applied or is currently collecting or not.

Can You Collect Social Security If You’re Still Working?

divorce and social security
divorce and social security

Just because you’re at retirement age, doesn’t mean you’re ready or able to stop working. After all, it’s important to have a good retirement income. So, can you collect from your ex-spouse’s work record while still working? Yes, you can. If you haven’t yet reached full retirement age, there’s a limit to how much you can make before it affects your Social Security payout.

For 2022, that limit is $19,560. For every $2 you make over the limit, $1 will be deducted from your Social Security benefits. The year you reach full retirement age, the limit switches to $51,960, and $1 is deducted for every $3 you are over the limit. Once you reach full retirement age, there’s no limit to how much money you can make. You’ll receive your full benefits.

How Do I Apply for an Ex-Spouse’s Benefit?

Now that you’ve learned the rules about divorce and Social Security, how do you apply to receive Social Security from your ex-spouse’s work record? It’s very straightforward. First, you’ll need to decide if now is the best age to apply for Social Security. Keep in mind that when you apply for benefits, the assumption from the SSA is that you will be applying based on your own earning record and you’ll receive the benefits that is the highest between you and your ex-spouse.

Before applying make sure that you collect the right documentation together. To apply on a former spouse’s record you’ll want to have that person’s Social Security number or their date and place of birth and their parent’s names. Once you get the necessary documentation together, applying for Social Security is simple. Visit SSA.gov, call 1-800-772-1213 or visit your local Social Security Administration office to apply.

The Bottom Line

divorce and social security
divorce and social security

Divorce has both personal and legal ramifications. For instance, there are certain Social Security rules after a divorce. When you’ve been divorced, you may be entitled to benefits from your ex-spouse, including Social Security benefits. If you were married for over 10 years, you could receive up to half of your full retirement or disability amount. If you’re eligible for benefits from your own work record, or from another spouse, you will be awarded whichever is highest.

Filing for Social Security on your ex-spouse’s work record won’t affect their benefits. They don’t even need to know about it. If they have another eligible ex-spouse filing on their work record, that won’t affect you either. When you’re getting close to retirement age, all you need to do is decide when to file, get the documentation together and apply for your Social Security benefits.

Tips for Investing

  • Divorce is one of many complications that can come up when planning for retirement. Working with a financial advisor to plan out where your income is going to come from when you retire can be key to living the life you want. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

  • When you’re planning for retirement, it’s important to know how much money you’ll need to save. Use our retirement calculator to determine how much you’ll need to maintain your lifestyle in retirement.

 ©iStock.com/Andril Zastrozhnov, ©iStock.com/AndreyPopov, ©iStock.com/tusasedgars

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