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Navigating Transitions: Divorced Spouse Social Security Benefits

Last updated: November 19, 2023

Divorce is a significant life transition that brings about many changes, including financial adjustments. One crucial aspect to consider during this period is Social Security benefits. Many divorced individuals may not be aware that they could be eligible for benefits based on their former spouse's earnings. 

The SSA estimates that about three-fifths of one percent of all Social Security beneficiaries 62 and older will be divorced spousal beneficiaries. More than 80% of them will be women, mostly in low-earning households. If you have been divorced, you should know this Social Security benefit and take all means necessary to obtain it. 

In this blog, we will tackle divorced spouse Social Security benefits, providing you with a comprehensive guide on navigating this often overlooked area.

Social Security Basics

Established by the federal government, Social Security serves as a safety net for retired, disabled, and surviving individuals. It is funded through payroll taxes and provides a source of income to eligible individuals during retirement.

To determine your Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates your earnings history, taking into account the highest-earning years of your career. The amount you receive is based on your average indexed monthly earnings, and the longer you work and pay into the system, the higher your benefits will be.

Divorced Spouse Social Security Benefits Eligibility

To be eligible for divorced spouse benefits, there are a few criteria to consider. 

  1. First, you must have been married to your former spouse for at least ten years. 

  2. Second, you must be currently unmarried, although if you remarried and later divorced, you may still be eligible. 

  3. You must be at least 62 years old,

  4. Your former spouse must be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

The application can be made online, over the phone, or by visiting the local Social Security office. You don’t need an appointment, but you can always call ahead to schedule one. 

To ensure a smooth process, be ready to provide the needed documents and answer important questions based on your identity, former marriage, and current marriage (if any). You can review those sets of questions here

For documentation, you need to prepare originals and copies of the following:

  • Proof of birth

  • Proof of US citizenship

  • US military discharge papers if serving the military before 1968

  • W-2 forms or self-employment tax returns from the previous year

  • Final divorce decree

  • Former marriage certificate

If you don’t have all of these documents, that’s ok. The SSA can help you obtain them. 

Timing Considerations

The age at which you claim your divorced spouse benefits can significantly impact the amount you receive. While you can begin claiming benefits as early as 62, doing so before reaching your full retirement age (FRA) can reduce benefits. On the other hand, delaying claiming until after your FRA can increase your benefits through delayed retirement credits.

To maximize your benefits, consider your individual circumstances. If you need the income immediately, claiming at 62 may be necessary. However, if you can afford to wait, delaying until your FRA or even beyond can lead to higher monthly payments.

Divorce and Duration of Marriage

The duration of your marriage plays a role in determining eligibility for divorced spouse benefits. As mentioned earlier, you must have been married for at least ten years to qualify. However, it's important to note that if you remarry, you will lose your eligibility for divorced spouse benefits unless the subsequent marriage ends in divorce or death.

Calculating Divorced Spouse Benefits

Understanding how divorced spouse benefits are calculated is crucial for making informed decisions. Generally, your benefit amount will be equal to half of your former spouse's full retirement or disability benefit. If you claim before reaching your FRA, your benefit may be reduced.

Let's consider an example. If your ex-spouse receives $2,000 per month in Social Security benefits, you could be eligible for $1,000 per month if you meet the necessary criteria. It's important to note that your own work history and earnings will not affect your eligibility for divorced spouse benefits.

Maximum Benefits and Earnings Record

To determine the maximum benefits available to you, you'll need access to your former spouse's earnings record. This record outlines their lifetime earnings and is used to calculate their Social Security benefits. The easiest way to obtain this information is by contacting the SSA directly and providing the necessary details about your ex-spouse.

Claiming Strategies for Divorced Spouse Benefits

Maximizing your divorced spouse's benefits requires careful consideration and analysis of different claiming strategies. One common strategy is to delay claiming your own benefits until you reach your FRA while claiming your divorced spouse's benefits earlier. This allows you to receive some income while also allowing your own benefits to grow.

Another strategy is to switch from receiving divorced spouse benefits to your own benefits later in life. This can be advantageous if your own benefits will be higher than the amount you receive based on your ex-spouse's earnings.


Navigating the post-divorce landscape can be complex, but understanding your entitlement to your divorced spouse Social Security benefits can alleviate some financial stress. By meeting the eligibility requirements, considering the timing, and exploring claiming strategies, you can make informed decisions that maximize your benefits. Don't let this valuable resource go untapped—take action and explore the options available to you. Your financial future is worth the effort.

Remember, when it comes to Social Security benefits, knowledge is power. By being proactive and informed, you can make the most of this vital resource, ensuring a smoother transition into your new chapter of life.

Did you know that there are many cases of fraud involving Social Security benefits? Learn how to prevent misuse of this valuable resource on our blog about preventing misuse of social security benefits.

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Victor Traylor
An expert to the field of Social Justice, Victor formed Disability Help to connect ideas and expertise from the US with rising global cultural leadership, building networks, fostering collaboration, long-term results, mutual benefit, and more extensive international perception.
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