How Divorce and Remarriage Affect Social Security Benefits

Many people are aware that seniors are entitled to collect Social Security benefits that are calculated based on their spouse’s work record. What’s less well-known is that this benefit applies in many cases to divorced spouses. In fact, ex-spouses may even be entitled to survivors benefits in certain circumstances.

As a spouse, you have the option of (1) claiming a Social Security retirement benefit based on your own earnings record, or (2) collecting a spousal benefit equal to one-half of your spouse’s Social Security benefit. You are automatically entitled to whichever benefit is higher, and you can collect on your spouse’s record even if you never worked yourself.

A divorced spouse can collect benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record, whether or not the ex-spouse has remarried and whether or not the ex-spouse’s new spouse is also collecting on the same work record.

But to receive this benefit, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Your ex-spouse is currently eligible for retirement benefits.
  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • You are at least 62 years old.
  • You are currently unmarried.

If your ex-spouse has not yet applied for retirement benefits, but is eligible for them, you can receive benefits based on his or her work record as long as you have been divorced for at least two years.

If you have reached full retirement age and are eligible for both a spouse’s benefit and your own retirement benefit, you have a choice. One option is to receive only the spouse’s benefit for now, and delay receiving your own retirement benefit until a later date. The longer you delay taking your own benefit (up to age 70), the higher the monthly payment you will ultimately receive.

If you remarry, though, you cannot receive benefits based on your former spouse’s work record unless the new marriage ends (by death, divorce, or annulment).

Survivors benefits

If you’re divorced and your former spouse has passed away, you could be eligible for survivors benefits if the marriage lasted 10 years or more. Survivors benefits are equivalent to the deceased spouse’s full Social Security benefit amount.

However, if you remarry before the age of 60, you can’t collect survivors benefits (unless the later marriage ends for any reason). If you remarry after age 60, you can still receive survivors benefits based on your former spouse’s record.

It may be that your new spouse is also collecting Social Security benefits, and you would receive a higher amount based on the new spouse’s work record. If this is the case, you will receive the higher amount.

There is one circumstance in which you don’t have to meet the 10-year marriage rule – if you’re caring for a child who is under age 16 or disabled, and who is receiving benefits based on the work record of your former spouse.