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7 Questions About Divorcee Social Security Benefits

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Santiago on

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Santiago on

Included in the myriad of questions that I regularly receive from readers are questions about how a divorced person can collect benefits based upon his or her ex-spouse’s Social Security record.

For a divorcee (as with many married couples) sometimes the ex’s benefits represent the lion’s share of the couple’s SS record. Because of this, many divorcees are very interested in knowing what benefits are available to them, and when.

In addition, even when the divorced spouse in question is not the higher earner there are questions about benefits that can be quite difficult to find answers for.

Listed below are several very common questions that come up and the answers for your reference.

7 Questions About Divorcee Social Security Benefits

1. Q: Am I eligible for benefits on my ex-spouse’s record?

A: If you were married to your ex for at least 10 years and your ex is at least age 62, you may be eligible to collect benefits based upon your ex’s record. The same reductions occur to these benefits as if you were still married, that is, you will face a permanent reduction to your benefits if you file at the earliest age.

If your ex has not filed for his or her own benefits, in order to be eligible for the Spousal Benefit you must have been divorced for at least two years. If he or she has already filed for benefits the two year restriction does not apply.

2. Q: Can I remarry and still collect benefits based upon my ex’s record?

A: If you remarry you will not be eligible for spousal benefits based upon your ex’s record. However, if you are divorced later or your new spouse dies, you will again be eligible for benefits based upon the prior spouse’s record.

In addition, if you remarry after age 60 you will continue to be eligible for a survivor’s benefit after your ex-spouse’s death. If you remarry before age 60 (and remain married) you are not eligible for the survivor benefit based on your ex’s record.

3. Q: I was married twice for more than 10 years each. One of the ex’s was quite a bit younger and would not yet be 62, although he had a much higher earnings record. Can I take benefits based upon the older ex’s record for a while and then switch to the younger later?

A: Yes, you can switch to a more advantageous benefit at any time. However if you start the Spousal Benefit early (before Full Retirement Age) on one ex-spouse and then later switch to the other ex’s record, you will still have the same reduction on the later benefit as if you had started that benefit early as well, no matter what age you are when you switch.

4. Q: When my ex-spouse begins taking benefits based upon my record, does that reduce the available benefits for my current spouse?

A: No. Ex-spouse benefits are payable in full, and have no impact on your current spouse, children, or other dependents’ benefits. Ex-spouse benefits are not counted toward the Family Maximum (FMax) benefit amount.

5. Q: What are the requirements to receive a Survivor Benefit based upon the record of a late ex-spouse?

A: Same as for the Spousal Benefit – you must have been married for at least 10 years, and you must not remarry before age 60. If you remarry before age 60 and subsequently divorce or the current spouse dies, you will be eligible for benefits based on either spouse’s record (assuming the current marriage lasted at least 12 months before the death).

6. Q: How does deemed filing work for ex-spouses?

A: Since there is not a requirement for your ex-spouse to have filed for his or her benefit to enable payment of Spousal Benefits to you, deemed filing takes effect as soon as your ex is age 62 and your divorce has been 2 years or more in the past. This means that sometimes you cannot plan your benefits as easily.

For example, let’s say you were married for 10 years or more and your divorce was already 2 years in the past. You’re approaching 62 years of age, and it has been your plan to apply for your own benefits at 62 and wait until 66 to apply for spousal benefits. Depending upon how old your ex-spouse is, you may or may not be able to do as you hoped. If your ex is not already age 62 when you reach age 62, deemed filing will not apply to your situation.

However, if your ex is the same age as you are or any older then deemed filing applies. This would eliminate your option of delaying your spousal benefits until age 66 (as planned above) or would require you to wait to for file either benefit until age 66. Note that this only applies before you are at Full Retirement Age – deemed filing does not apply after FRA.

7. Q: Are there any unusual strategies that divorced spouses have available to them?

A: Divorcees can be in the unusual position for both ex-spouses to file a restricted application for spousal benefits only, once each of the ex’s are older than Full Retirement Age. When spouses are married, there is the requirement for the other spouse to have filed (or filed and suspended) in order to enable the first spouse to file for spousal benefits. Since ex-spouses do not have this requirement, both are eligible to file a restricted application for spousal benefits and delay their own retirement benefit to age 70.


  1. Sandra Flint says:

    I am 64 years old and divorced for 14 years (married for 24 years). I’m still working full time but plan to retire in 2 years when I turn 66 (my FRA). I plan to file and suspend my SS benefit at that time. I then plan to file a restricted application – a spousal benefit based on my ex-husbands work record. I thought I read somewhere that you CANNOT file a restricted application on an ex-spouse’s record if the benefit you would receive on your own work record is the HIGHER of the two amounts; for example, let’s say 50% of his benefit would be $1250, my benefit would be $1300. Is it true that I cannot file a restricted application after I file and suspend my own if my benefit is a higher amount?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Sandra –

      In your case you would not file and suspend, you would simply file a restricted application for the spousal benefit. Then later (as late as age 70) you can file for your own benefit which will have accrued the delay credits.

      You absolutely can file a restricted application for spousal benefits even if your own benefit is larger – you just don’t want to file and suspend first. That would disallow you to file a restricted application. A restricted application literally means that you are filing ONLY for the spousal benefit – so you are NOT filing for your own benefit beforehand, including file and suspend.

      Hope this helps –


      1. Sandra Flint says:

        Excellent advice Jim. Exactly what I was looking for. I am so glad I found this website!

        1. jblankenship says:

          I have to tell you, your email address (toonces) cracked me up. I assume it’s referring to Toonces the Driving Cat? :)


          1. Sandra Flint says:

            Ha! Only those of our generation would catch that. Yes, she was named after the infamous SNL driving cat. Unfortunately, she took her final plunge over that cliff in July :(

          2. jblankenship says:

            Awww. Sorry to hear that.


          3. Sandra Flint says:

            She being our family pet.

      2. Sandra Flint says:

        I’m reading conflicting information about filing a restricted application for an ex-spousal benefit due to the new Social Security laws. One website states that the ex-spouse must have filed for his Social Security benefit by the time I file my restricted application at FRA (October of 2017). Another states he only has to be “of retirement age” at that time. Which is correct? Has this changed due to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015?

        1. jblankenship says:

          No change – if the divorce is finalized for 2 or more years then the ex only need be at or older than age 62.

          1. Sandra Flint says:

            What a relief. He’s 3 years younger than me and has no plans to retire early. You just made my day!

      3. Ruby L Thompson says:

        I will be 66 years old in April 2017. I have applied for my ex-spouses Social Security benefit. He was 62 when he passed and we were married 24 years. Neither remarried. Will I receive the full benefit he received at age 62 or only 50%? I was planning to collect his and wait until I turn 70 for mine.

        1. jblankenship says:

          You should receive a bit more than the amount he was receiving at age 62. There is a minimum percentage that is available as a survivor benefit – so when he filed at age 62 the benefit was reduced to 75%. You should be eligible for at a minimum 81.5%.

  2. Sharron White says:

    I have applied for benefits based on my SS to start May 1. Can I apply on my ex’s SS at age 66? He is currently drawing on his own.

    1. jblankenship says:

      If you’re under age 66 now, you will be deemed to have filed for spousal benefits when you file for your own benefit.

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