Social Security: Can I claim retirement benefits off of my ex-spouse's record?

S.F. Ehrlich Associates |

The Social Security system is filled with complexity - questions ranging from when should I claim to isn't the Social Security system bankrupt to when can I collect my Social Security retirement benefit are all complicated on their own.

But what if you're divorced?  Fortunately, many rules and strategies remain the same - regardless of whether you're married or divorced - albeit with a few caveats.  The requirements that need to be satisfied in order to collect off of an ex-spouse's record are as follows:

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  • The applicant must not be remarried.  If your second marriage ends, however, either by death, divorce, or annulment, the first ex-spouse's benefit comes back into the picture.
  • The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years.
  • The ex-spouse must be at least 62 years old and qualified to collect Social Security retirement benefits.


A few other points:

  • An ex-spouse is not notified that the applicant is attempting to collect off of his or her record.  Many people appreciate this element of privacy.
  • If the applicant is collecting off of an ex-spouse's earnings record, any future spouses of the ex-spouse will not see their spousal benefit negatively impacted.  In other words, one individual can have multiple people collecting off of his or her earnings record provided other eligibility requirements are met.
  • If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, you can receive benefits on his or her record if you have been divorced for at least two years.
  • When determining your benefit amount, the traditional calculation of spousal retirement benefit still applies.  The applicant is only entitled to a 50% spousal benefit; not 100% of the ex-spouse's benefit.
  • If you continue to work while receiving benefits, the earnings limit applies.
  • Ultimately, this strategy will only really come into play in two instances: 1) your own benefit is less than that of your ex-spouse or 2) you were at least 62 by the end of 2015 and can do a restricted application to collect ex-spouse benefits while you delay your own.

The divorce process on its own can be extremely difficult.  When navigating the fallout from such a taxing life event, keep these points above in mind to hopefully make the experience a bit more manageable.


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