Divorcees May Claim Social Security Benefits but Most Don't Know It

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Divorce is fraught with uncertainties, especially when it comes to finances. One of the gray areas in a divorce is Social Security, and it’s usually due to a lack of knowledge. A recent MassMutual poll reveals close to 50% of Americans who are nearing retirement age are unaware that divorcees may be entitled to their share of a former spouse’s Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

To qualify, divorcees must be at least 62 years old and must have been married to their former spouse for at least a decade. Once those criteria are met, a divorcee may be entitled to some of their former partner’s monthly payments, up to 50% of the total benefits based on career earnings at the full retirement age. But divorce is complicated, and benefits can be too.

Financial advisor lawyer consulting mature middle-aged couple showing them debts, bunkruptcy, negative test results, mortgage, divorce certificate contract pension at home indoors
Source: Inside Creative House / iStock via Getty Images
Inside Creative House / iStock via Getty Images

Divorce and Social Security Benefits

After 10 years of marriage, there may be uncertainty around how to divvy up financial assets. When it comes to Social Security benefits, a divorcee can generally expect to receive 50% of their ex’s benefits as long they’re applying at the full retirement age of 67. There’s really no added advantage to waiting beyond that age as it doesn’t increase the size of the payments.

Many times a former couple will no longer stay in communication after a split. Fortunately, there’s no need to drudge up negative emotions to get paid. That’s because a divorcee doesn’t need to wait around for their ex to officially retire before they can start receiving checks in the mail. The Social Security Administration won’t even inform the other spouse about it. To claim benefits, a divorcee simply must file for Social Security benefits on their former partner’s record at least two years after the divorce is final.

There are exceptions to every rule, including divorce. If you as a divorcee remarry, you’re no longer entitled to your ex’s benefits unless your second marriage ends by way of annulment, another divorce or death. But if your former spouse remarries, that doesn’t interfere with your ability to collect benefits once they reach the age of 62.

It’s also possible that a divorcee becomes eligible for their own Social Security benefits based on earnings. In this case, they will only receive payments if the amount falls below what they would be entitled to based on their former spouse’s benefits. In this situation, Social Security Administration (SSA) pays the greater of the two benefits. But a divorcee may also be able to delay benefits of their personal record.

If you apply for Social Security benefits before you reach the full retirement age, your check size will be reduced regardless of whether you’re applying for benefits on behalf of your former spouse’s record or your own.

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