January 18, 2022

Ask the Expert: How Does Divorce Affect Social Security Benefits?

My ex and I were married for almost 25 years and we have been divorced for almost 20 years. In the meantime she remarried – I think for 10 years – and divorced again. Her Social Security benefits are bigger than mine. If she passed, would I be able to claim her benefit?

Could be.

You must meet four requirements to qualify for Social Security based on a former spouse’s file: 1) Your marriage has lasted at least 10 years; 2) You did not remarry before age 60; 3) You and your ex are both eligible to apply for Social Security (It doesn’t matter if she has already applied for her benefits; she just needs to be eligible.); 4) Your benefit based on her work history is greater than the amount you would receive based on your own data.

If you meet all four conditions, you can receive a partner benefit based on your ex’s employment history during her life and a survivor benefit based on her data after her death.

Her marriage history since your divorce is irrelevant. Her next spouse’s eligibility for benefits based on her record is not affected by your benefits as a former spouse.

A word of warning: to be eligible for the maximum benefit based on your ex’s file, you must defer your application until your own full retirement age. For example, the highest amount that you can collect as her surviving dependents is 100% of the amount to which she was entitled based on her file. But if you apply for survivor benefits at age 60 — which is the earliest a widow or widower can apply — you’ll only get 71.5% of that amount.

it comes down to

People who are divorced are sometimes eligible for Social Security benefits based on the employment records of their former spouses.

More information



TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to [email protected] Please include your name, address and telephone numbers. Questions can only be answered in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Contact your own advisors for your specific needs.

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