Social Security Benefits For Divorced Spouse & How To Apply

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Divorce not only breaks a person emotionally but also pushes them into a financial crisis. If you were dependent on your partner financially, separating from them limits your money sources. US government provides Social security benefits for divorced spouses to help them cope with the situation until they become financially stable and independent. Keep reading as we talk about social security benefits and how you can avail of them.

What Is Social Security?

Social security or the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program is a financial security given to the American citizens.

It comes in the form of retirement benefits, supplemental security income (SSI), disability benefits, and benefits for spouses or other survivors of a family member who’s passed away (1).

It is a program where the taxpayers pay a certain percentage of their earnings as social security taxes. This is used to pay the social security beneficiaries.

Let’s know how divorced persons are eligible to get the benefits.

What Benefits Are Divorced Spouses Entitled To?

Divorced spouses are entitled to social security benefits (SSB) from their ex-spouses (2). For the sake of simplicity, let us look at the benefits a divorced spouse receives in various scenarios (3).

Scenario 1:

Divorced and ex-spouse is alive:

If you are divorced, you are entitled to your ex-spouse’s social security benefits, but you need to fulfill the following criteria:

  1. You should have been married for ten years.
  2. You should be 62 years or older.
  3. You should be single and not remarried.
  4. Your ex-spouse is eligible for social security retirement or disability benefits.
  5. If the benefits from your own employment are less than those from your ex-spouse’s employment, then a part of their benefits will be added to yours.

Things to note:

  • The benefits for divorced spouses amount to only half of their ex-spouse’s retirement benefit. The benefits will not include the delayed retirement credits your ex-spouse may earn in the future.
  • If you remarry after your divorce, you will not be eligible for the social security benefits of your spouse unless your current marriage ends by the death of your spouse, divorce, or annulment.
  • Even if your ex-spouse did not apply for the retirement benefits, you can receive the benefits, provided they are eligible for the benefits and you have been divorced for a minimum of two years.
  • If your ex-spouse’s record shows bonus benefit, you will receive an extra amount.
  • If you were born before January 2, 1954, then you can opt to receive the divorced spouse benefits, and postpone your retirement benefits to a future date.
  • However, if you were born after January 2, 1954, then you have to apply for both retirement and divorced spouse benefits at the same time.
  • If you are working while you receive the divorced spouse benefits, then the limit on retirement benefit earning still holds good. More about limits on retirement benefits earning later in the article.
  • If you are undertaking any government work and will receive a pension which is not covered by social security, then the SSB from your ex-spouse may be affected.
  • The benefits you get don’t affect the benefits your ex-spouse or their current spouse may receive.

If you did not file for retirement benefits but still qualify for them, your ex-spouse may receive them on your behalf if two years have passed since the divorce was finalized.

Scenario 2:

Divorced and ex-spouse is deceased:

You get the same benefits as the widow or widower of the deceased person. If your ex-spouse had passed away, you get (4):

  • The benefits of a widow or widower provided your marriage lasted ten years or more.
  • If you have a child who is below 16 years of age or disabled and is receiving the benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, then the mandatory ten-year marriage rule is not applicable, provided the child is from your ex-spouse or is adopted by them.
  • If you remarry after the age of 60 years, the remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivor’s benefits.

Scenario 3:

You are working while you are eligible for social security retirement or survivor’s benefits:

It means higher benefits for you. Every year all the SSB records of working people are reviewed. If your earned income for the previous year is higher than the base taken to calculate your retirement benefit, then the benefit amount is recalculated. The difference amount is paid in January of the subsequent year.

Things to note:
The additional earnings apart from your survivor’s benefits make your retirement benefits higher than your survivor’s benefits.

In all the above scenarios, you are eligible for SSB from your ex-spouse. But how much are you going to receive? Let’s see next.

Divorced spouse’s survivor benefits

Here are the benefits you receive on the death of your ex-spouse (5):

  • If you are above the full retirement age (65), you are entitled to 100% of your deceased ex-spouse’s SSB.
  • If you are in the age group of 60 and 65, you will get 72% to 99% of your ex-spouse’s SSB.
  • If you are disabled and in the age group of 50 and 59, you will get 72% of your ex-spouse’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or retirement benefit, provided you have become disabled before the death of your ex-spouse or within seven years of his/her death.
  • If you are taking care of a child who is below 16 years and is receiving SSDI or retirement benefits on your deceased ex-spouse’s record, then you too are entitled to 75% of SSDI or retirement benefit, but this is subject to the maximum family benefit.

Note: If you are working during the period of entitlement of survivor’s benefit, the benefits may be reduced on the basis of your age and your earning capability.

What Is The Earning Limit While You Receive SSB?

  1. Below retirement age, the limit is $17,040
  2. In the year of reaching full retirement age, the limit is $45,360
  • If you haven’t reached your retirement age (66 years) and earn more than your yearly benefit, then the benefit amount may be reduced.
  • If you are below 66 years for the whole year, then $1 is deducted from the benefit amount for every $2 you earn beyond $17,040.
  • In the year you reach your retirement age, for every $3 you earn above $45,360, $1 is deducted from your benefit amount.
  • If you are earning even after your full retirement age, nothing will be deducted from your SSB.

When you become eligible for the benefits, you need to apply to the Social Security Administration.

How To Apply For Divorced Spouse’s Benefits?

Here is how you can do that:

  1. Apply online if you are three months less than 62 years or older.
    or
  2. Call national toll-free service number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit the social security office in your jurisdiction.
  3. You need to provide the below documents:
    i. Birth certificate or date-of-birth proof.
    ii. US citizenship proof or other proof if you are not born in the US.
    iii. If you are in the military service before 1968, then you need to furnish the US military discharge papers.
    iv. W-2 forms (W-2 form shows an employee’s annual salary and the tax amount held back from their paycheck) and self-employment tax returns for the previous year.
    v. Divorce decree
    vi. Marriage certificate

Next, we answer a few more questions on SSBs.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. If I am divorced and remarried, will my ex-spouse still receive all the benefits?

Yes, they can receive the benefits, provided:

  • Your marriage had lasted for ten years or more.
  •  Your ex-spouse is unmarried and is 62 years or older.

2. Can I get social security benefits in the US if I’m working overseas?

The Social Security Administration has agreements with 24 countries. Your work credits will be counted for SSBs if you are working in any of them. You can see the list of countries here.

Social security benefits are quite helpful for a divorced person, especially when they are financially struggling or unstable. However, there are some clauses, terms, and conditions based on which the government decides whether or not you are eligible for these benefits. These conditions also determine the amount you are entitled to. You may seek the help of a lawyer or an agent at your local social security office if you are unable to understand the intricacies of the law or calculations.

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Kalpana M

Kalpana Nadimpalli graduated in English Literature and Psychology. Her fascination for the corporate world made her do a Masters in Business Administration from Andhra University. Being a mother of two boys, she could naturally fit into the shoes of a writer at MomJunction. She wrote articles on new parenting and relationships. Previously, Kalpana worked as a product information specialist and... more

Margaret F Terrasi

Maggie Terrasi is an attorney in Southeast Michigan, having graduated from the law school in 2003. She works with families to help them through the difficult times of custody or divorce. And has been able to help clients protect their assets with estate planning ideas. Maggie has a teenage daughter, who she enjoys spending time with.  She also enjoys reading,... more