Social Security Benefits for Divorced Spouses

Social Security benefits are a key piece of the retirement income puzzle. That’s why it’s good to know what you are entitled to, and how benefits can shift if your circumstances change.

You can receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s work record if:

  • You are 62 or older.

  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years or more.

  • You have not remarried.

  • You are entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

  • The benefit you’d receive based on your work record is less than you would receive based on your ex’s record.

It does not matter if your ex remarries. Their marital status does not impact your right to claim benefits on their employment record.

However, if you remarry, you cannot receive ex-spousal benefits (unless that new marriage ends due to annulment, divorce, or death.) If your ex passes away, you should receive benefits just as a widow or widower would, provided you were married for at least 10 years.

Calculating Social Security Benefits for Divorced Spouses

Now, let’s look at how Social Security benefit amounts are determined.

If you qualify for benefits based on your employment record, that amount is paid first. If the amount on your ex-spouse’s work record is higher, you will receive an additional amount for the difference between the two. Both amounts combined should equal the highest amount.

If you earned more throughout your work history and qualify for higher benefits than your ex, then you will not receive spousal benefits. In that case, your ex could receive additional benefits based on your work record, assuming they meet eligibility criteria.

Timeframe to Receive Social Security Spousal Benefits

If your former spouse qualifies for Social Security benefits and you have been divorced for at least two continuous years, you can receive benefits—even if your ex has not applied for them. Remember, benefits are paid out separately to both individuals on your own respective timelines.

If you were born before January 2, 1954, and have already reached retirement age, you can receive your ex’s benefit and hold off on receiving your benefit until a later date. If you were born after that date, the option to receive one benefit at retirement age and postpone the other is not available. In the latter case, when you file for Social Security, you are filing for your benefits and your spousal benefits combined.

When it comes to financial planning for divorce, developing sound strategies regarding Social Security and other retirement income is just one way EP Wealth advisors help clients plan today for a bright tomorrow. Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFAs) help you navigate the financial aspects of divorce to make the process less stressful and more productive. Find a CDFA near you.


How to save for retirement, the options available, and/or when/how to open a retirement account is unique for each individual. A number of factors have to be considered and for this reason it can be a difficult process to find the options that are most beneficial for you. No guarantee or warrantee is made that any of the information submitted or referenced here will be suitable, profitable, or prove successful. Other retirement saving options exist that may be better suited to your individual needs. Please consult a professional, including, a financial, tax, legal and/or human resources professional before implementing anything referenced herein.

The information presented here is not intended to be regarded as a comprehensive list of retirement plans, considerations, including but not limited to, categories, services, or qualifications that a client or prospective client should consider when assessing or comparing retirement plans or retirement accounts. As the author of this piece, EP Wealth Advisors, LLC (“EPWA”) has tailored the messaging of this article to align with the categories, services, qualifications, capabilities and services that it offers and can service. EPWA makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information presented. EPWA reserves the right to make changes to some or all of the information displayed here without notice.

There is no guarantee that the services detailed herein will be offered to a client, or if offered, that they will be offered in the manner outlined here. The services EPWA offers clients is dependent on the requirements of each client. In many instances, clients or prospective clients may not have a need for all or some of the services detailed.

The need for and type of retirement account that an individual or employer require are specific to the uniqueness of everyone’s circumstances. The referenced material identified herein is limited in nature and angles towards accounts and plans that align with the services offered by EPWA. There is no guarantee or warrantee that the services offered by EPWA will satisfy your financial service’s needs. Services offered by other advisors may be more suitable to your specific needs.

The content of this report is believed to be accurate as of the date of publication and cannot and does not accurately forecast future economic, market, or financial conditions; including changes to retirement benefits. For this reason, any subsequent changes, and/or that occur after the publication of this publication may cause the analysis encompassed herein to become inaccurate.

Information presented is general in nature and should not be viewed as a comprehensive analysis of the topics discussed. It is intended to serve as a tool containing general information that should assist you in the development of subsequent discussions with the appropriate professionals. Content does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice nor is it intended to supplement professional individualized advice. Please consult a professional financial, tax, legal and/or human resources professional before applying any of the approaches or strategies made referenced directly or indirectly here.

Asset allocation and diversification do not assure or guarantee better performance and cannot eliminate the risk of investment losses.

All investment strategies, including retirement accounts and plans, have the potential for profit or loss. Different types of investments and investment strategies involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that any specific investment or strategy will be suitable or profitable for a client's portfolio. The risk of loss can never be eliminated even if working with a professional.


Our breadth of coverage across the U.S. means we’re local—here to serve your needs at your convenience.