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What qualifies a divorced spouse for social security checks?

If you are divorced, you may be able to claim Social Security Benefits based on earnings from your former spouse. Here’s what to know to qualify...

If you are divorced, you may be able to claim Social Security Benefits based on earnings from your former spouse. Here’s what to know to qualify...
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Building up a retirement fund requires putting in time and effort, and the better your earnings during your working years, the more you can expect to receive from Social Security Benefits. However, sometimes one spouse forgoes their career opportunities for the sake of their spouse’s career or for their family.

Unfortunately, marriages don’t always work out and when it comes time to retire, that sacrifice could mean that your retirement fund is less than adequate. If you are divorced you may be eligible to receive Social Security Benefits based on what your former spouse put into their retirement fund, even if they remarried.

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How to qualify for divorced spouse’s Social Security Benefits

If you are divorced, you don’t automatically qualify for Social Security Benefits from your ex-spouse's fund, you must meet some requirements. You must’ve been married for at least ten years, and are unmarried. You must be at least 62 years old and your former spouse is eligible to receive retirement or disability Social Security Benefits.

An exception to the age requirement is if you are caring for your ex-spouses child who is younger than 16 or disabled. In that case you can claim at any age, but the child must be your biological child or you have legally adopted the child. The benefits will continue until the child reaches 16 or is no longer disabled.

Additionally, benefits based on your own work record must be less than the benefits your ex-spouse is entitled to. If you are entitlement is lower, then yours will be topped up so that the combination of the two amounts equals the higher amount.

When can you apply for Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse's work record?

You can apply for retirement benefits based on your ex-spouse’s entitlement even if they have not applied for retirement yet. However, you must have been divorced for at least two consecutive years prior and be of retirement age yourself if your former spouse has not filed for retirement benefits yet.

If you were born before 2 January 1954, you can receive benefits based on your ex-spouse's record but delay receiving your own benefits until later. If you were born on or after that date, you will not have an option and when you file for benefits you will be filing for both your retirement and your ex-spouse's benefits, if applicable.

How much will you receive in Social Security retirement benefits from your ex-spouse?

You may be entitled to up to 50 percent of your ex-spouse's Social Security Benefit even if they have remarried. In order to qualify for the full 50 percent, you will need to wait until full retirement age to claim the maximum benefit. Otherwise you will receive a reduced amount, the same as would happen for anyone who retires before full retirement age.

Likewise, if you or your ex-spouse continues to work while receiving benefits, an earnings limit will be applied depending on your age. For those under full retirement age, their benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 over $18,960 of income in 2021. For those over full retirement age, benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $3 over $50,520 of income.

However, working while receiving benefits could result in a higher benefit as the Social Security Administration will recalculate your earnings average should your annual income exceed that of any of your other highest earning years.

Survivor’s Social Security Benefits for ex-spouses

In the event that your ex-spouse is deceased, you may be eligible for up to 100 percent of their benefit through the survivor’s benefit. The requirements change slightly but you still need to have been married for at least 10 years. You can claim the benefits when you are 60, or at age 50 if you are disabled. If you remarried after age 60, or 50 if you are disabled, you can file for benefits based on your ex-spouse's work record, but only do so if they are higher than your current spouse’s.

You do not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule if you are caring for your former spouse’s child, biological or legally adopted, who is under 16 or disabled.