A Social Security Guide – For Your Friend Who Is Divorced

December 21, 2021

If you have a friend who was divorced after being married at least ten years, they may be able to claim social security benefits on their ex-spouse’s work record.

Here’s how it works:

  1. There are no decisions to make during the divorce. The benefits are determined by the Social Security Administration when your friend reaches age 62+.
  2. No court order is necessary – all that’s required is proof that the marriage lasted ten years+ and the documentation of the divorce.
  3. The former spouse’s benefits are not affected at all by the claim – they don’t even have to know your friend is filing on their work history!
  4. Benefits can be received while the ex-spouse is alive as well as after they die.

How does my friend qualify?

To be eligible to file based on an ex-spouse’s work history, all the following must apply:

  • The marriage lasted ten years+
  • Your friend is not currently married (unless over age 60 when remarried)
  • Your friend is at least 62 years+ (unless disabled or ex-spouse is deceased)
  • The spousal benefit is greater than your friends benefit based on their own working record
  • The ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits

Your friend’s former spouse doesn’t have to be collecting their benefits for your friend to claim their spousal benefit. However, if this is the case, the divorce must have been finalized at least two years prior.

How much will my friend receive?

The maximum spousal benefit is 50% of what their ex will collect at full retirement age (FRA). While your friend can start receiving benefits before reaching FRA, filing earlier will reduce the amount they receive by approximately 6.5%-7.5% each year. FRA varies based on birth year.

Your friend can get an estimate of benefits by calling or visiting an SSA office. They should bring a marriage certificate and divorce decree. They’ll also need their ex’s social security number, but if they don’t have it, they can provide their ex’s date of birth, place of birth, and parents’ names.


Should my friend collect benefits based on their work record or their ex’s?

All social security recipients have the option to delay taking their own social security past their FRA to increase their monthly social security check. Starting their own benefit after FRA increases payment by 8% per year each year beyond FRA until age 70.

If someone is born in 1953 or earlier, they have a unique option to file for ex-spousal benefits now and switch to their own benefit later. However, if they do file early, both of those benefit amounts will be reduced accordingly – permanently. So, your friend should crunch the numbers for various longevity scenarios before making this election.

Anyone born in 1954 or after must choose one benefit or the other. Unlike filing for benefits based on one’s own record, when filing as an ex-spouse, waiting until after full retirement age will not increase benefits, so it is best for your friend to file upon reaching FRA if they haven’t already.

Whenever your friend decides to file, their benefit is calculated as the greater of either their own benefit or their ex-spousal benefit. In other words, they cannot double-dip. The decision on when and whose benefit to take is a permanent one, so encourage them to work closely with a financial advisor and the SSA to see what would give them the largest benefit.

Other nuances exist around the rules for ex-spousal benefits, such as the impact of government pensions, rules on how benefits are taxed, and more. Please reach out to a member of the BDF team if you’d like more information.