Social Security Benefits and Divorce

Social security benefits and divorce

Many people who divorce are unaware of the fact that, despite the dissolution of their marriage, they may be entitled to collect Social Security spousal benefits based on a former wife’s or husband’s earnings record.

As a financial planner for The Motley Fool suggests, many people will get more Social Security retirement benefits on their own record than from a former spouse’s. But if you have a limited work history, collecting Social Security benefits based on an ex’s record could significantly increase your monthly payment.

Depending on the circumstances, divorced Social Security beneficiaries may receive:

  • retirement benefits based on their own covered earnings history;
  • auxiliary benefits determined by a living or deceased former spouse’s earnings history;
  • a combination of both. 

As divorce attorneys, Charles R. Ullman & Associates looks at potential Social Security benefits when considering spousal support or preparing our clients for the division of marital assets prior to finalizing a separation agreement.

Depending on a client’s age, it may seem like Social Security benefits is an issue to be addressed later. But taking into account all that our clients are due is part of our mission to protect a client’s financial future in a divorce.

Who Is Entitled to an Ex-Spouse’s Social Security?

You are eligible to collect spousal benefits on a living former wife’s or husband’s earnings record as long as:

  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years
  • You have not remarried
  • You are at least 62 years old
  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to collect Social Security retirement or disability benefits. 

If your ex-spouse has not begun collecting Social Security benefits, you become eligible two years after your divorce. If your ex is already receiving benefits, there is no further waiting period. 

If your ex-spouse dies or has died, you could get survivor’s benefits the same as a widow or widower, provided that your marriage lasted 10 years or more. If you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if you are disabled), the remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivor’s benefits.

If you are caring for a child under age 16 or who is disabled and receiving benefits on the record of your former spouse, you would not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule to obtain survivor’s benefits.

The child must be your former spouse’s natural or legally adopted child. Benefits last until the child turns 16 or is no longer disabled.

Benefits paid to a divorced spouse do not affect the benefit amount paid to their former spouse or other ex-spouses or survivors paid benefits on the basis of that spouse’s work record.

If there are multiple ex-spouses claiming benefits on one person’s work record, they would all receive the same full amount that one spouse alone would be entitled to receive. 

Social Security Benefits for Divorced Women

Typically, it is a divorced woman who benefits from the ability to receive auxiliary Social Security benefits based on their ex-spouse’s work record. Many women get a higher benefit based on their ex-spouse’s work, especially if their spouse is deceased.

Auxiliary benefits are computed for each eligible previous marriage reported by a divorced woman.

If an ex-husband is alive when a woman claims Social Security benefits on his earnings record, the divorced spouse’s auxiliary benefit will be about half (50%) of the ex-husband’s payment.

If an ex-husband is deceased when a woman claims benefits, the auxiliary benefit will be effectively equal to the deceased ex-husband’s full benefit.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay whichever benefit provides the most money. After computing an auxiliary benefit for each eligible marriage, the SSA will select the highest auxiliary benefit and compare it with the divorced woman’s own retirement benefit.

A divorced woman who does not have a retirement benefit will receive the full auxiliary benefit as a divorced spouse or a surviving divorced spouse.

If a divorced woman’s retirement benefit is less than the highest auxiliary benefit available, the SSA will supplement her retirement benefit with the difference between it and the full auxiliary benefit.

However, if the woman’s retirement benefit is equal to or more than the full auxiliary benefit, she will only receive the retirement benefit she has earned.

Divorced Spouses and Social Security Disability

If your ex-spouse is receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you could be eligible for a monthly benefit of up to 50% of their SSDI benefit amount. The requirements are the same as for receiving a retirement benefit based on your ex-spouse’s record.

However, other family members may obtain a benefit as well, and there is a limit to the amount a family may receive.

The total varies, depending on the disabled individual’s benefit amount and the number of qualifying family members on their record. Generally, the total amount the primary SSDI beneficiary and their family can receive is about 150 to 180 percent of the disabled individual’s benefit.

What Information Do I Need to Apply for Divorced Spouse Benefit?

When you are within three months of age 62 (or older) you can apply online for spousal Social Security benefits. If it’s easier for you, phone 1800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or go to a local Social Security office (see COVID-19 protocol information).

You must prove your eligibility. This requires documents about yourself, your spouse, and your marriage:

  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States 
  • U.S. military discharge papers if you served before 1968
  • W-2 forms or self-employment tax returns for the most recent filing year
  • Final divorce decree
  • Marriage certificate.

You’ll also need your ex-spouse’s Social Security number. If you don’t know it, you’ll be asked for their birth date and place and their parents’ names, which will allow SSA to find the Social Security number. 

That’s just the start. The SSA will have several questions for you. Depending on the information you provide, the SSA may need to ask other questions. If you are working with a lawyer, your attorney will help prepare you to make the process as easy and smooth as possible.

Contact an Experienced Raleigh, NC, Divorce Lawyer

The potential availability of spousal Social Security benefits after a divorce, whether immediately or down the road, may have a significant impact on your separation agreement and your future finances.

If you are considering divorce or have been divorced and have not yet determined how to obtain the full Social Security benefit you are due, we can help.

The Raleigh, N.C., law firm of Charles R. Ullman & Associates focuses on family law. Attorney Charles Ullman is a board-certified Specialist in North Carolina family law, a certification that requires additional education, extensive experience, and a written examination.

Our legal team focuses on providing compassion and understanding as we guide our clients through the transition to a new life. Phone (919) 336-0136 or contact us online today to set up an initial consultation.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.