Divorce is usually traumatic and sometimes acrimonious, but such emotions are absent from Social Security’s rules governing benefits for divorced spouses. If the marriage lasted at least 10-consecutive years, benefits from a former spouse are the same as if the marriage had never ended, and that is true for both “spousal benefits” (when both ex-spouses are still living) and for “survivor benefits” (when the former spouse dies).

Ex-Spouse Benefits (when both ex-spouses are living)

In addition to the standard rules for collecting spousal benefits (see “Demystifying Social Security Spousal Benefits” previously posted), a divorced spouse is also subject to the following:

  • The marriage must have lasted at least 10-consecutive[1] years.
  • If the divorce was finalized less than 2 years ago, the former spouse must be already collecting either Social Security (SS) retirement or SS disability benefits.
  • If the divorce was finalized more than 2 years ago, the former spouse must be at least eligible (e.g., age 62) to collect SS retirement benefits (but need not be actually collecting).

Remarriage, and the effect thereof

Ex-spouse benefits from a former spouse are not available to someone who has remarried and who remains married but benefits from a former spouse become available again if the remarriage ends for any reason. Simply put, a divorced spouse must be single and meet all other spouse eligibility criteria to collect benefits from their former spouse.

It does not matter if the former spouse (on whose record benefits will be collected) has remarried. In that case an ex-spouse is entitled to the same benefits as a current spouse, and both the current and the ex-spouse would receive benefits as appropriate for their age when the spouse benefit was claimed.  There is no reduction if both a current and ex-spouse are collecting benefits on the same record, and the Family Maximum does not apply. 

Privacy Laws Apply

The former spouse has no control over ex-spouse benefits; if an ex-spouse meets all Social Security’s eligibility criteria, benefits will be paid, often without the former spouse, on whose record benefits are claimed, being aware.

Survivor Benefits for An Ex-spouse

If the 10-years-married rule and all other normal surviving spouse eligibility criteria are met (see “Demystifying Social Security Survivor Benefits” previously posted), an ex-spouse is entitled to a benefit from a deceased former spouse even if the former spouse has remarried and survivor benefits are also being paid to another surviving spouse. There is, however, a marriage-related restriction for a divorced ex-spouse to receive a survivor benefit from a former spouse:

  • If the surviving ex-spouse remarried before age 60 and has remained married, they cannot collect a survivor benefit from their former spouse.  But if the surviving ex-spouse remarried after age 60, they remain eligible to collect a survivor benefit from their former spouse, even while currently married.

If a surviving ex-spouse has more than one former spouse and meets eligibility rules for each marriage, the surviving ex-spouse has a choice of which survivor benefit to collect and would obviously choose the one which yields the highest benefit.

Here at The AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory service, questions about benefits for divorced spouses are among those most frequently asked. If you have questions about Social Security, contact us at [email protected], or at 1-888-750-2622.

[1] If the couple remarries (each other) before the end of the calendar year which follows the year their divorce became final, the period they were divorced counts for the purpose of satisfying the 10-years-married rule.