Can I qualify to receive my ex's Social Security benefits?

Posted on Jul 8, 2016 by Christopher Pitts

Social Security benefits are available to the vast majority of the American population. The Social Security Administration (SSA) reports that 96 percent of workers qualify for these benefits.

The term “workers” may cause concern for some individuals who are considering filing for or recently filed for divorce. In many cases, one spouse may have remained home to rear the children while the other pursued his or her career. In others, one spouse was designated the primary contact for children and had to leave work when a child experienced an injury or illness, potentially stunting the parent’s ability to move forward in his or her career.

These situations can lead to many questions when it comes to the end of a marriage. Such as: When one spouse was the only one working or the one that was able to focus solely on his or her career, can the other receive these benefits even after a divorce?

In many cases, the answer is yes.

How do I know if I qualify for divorced spouse benefits?

To determine if you qualify, ask yourself these five questions:

  • Were you married to your ex-spouse for at least ten years?
  • Are you currently not married? (Note, it generally does not impact your ability to receive benefits if the ex-spouse has remarried)
  • Are you 62 years of age or older?
  • Is the benefit that you are entitled to receive based on your work history less than that you would receive from your ex-spouse?
  • Is your ex eligible for Social Security retirement benefits?

If you answered yes to these questions you likely qualify for the “divorced spouse benefit”.

Are these benefits helpful?

You may wonder if the divorced spouse benefit is helpful for your retirement needs. In many cases, the answer to this question is also yes.

A recent piece by NBC News analyzed these benefits, explaining their potential with an example. In the example, one spouse received a benefit $500 higher than the other. By applying for the divorced spouse benefit, the spouse receiving a lower amount could earn an addition $138,000 over the span of his retirement years. This estimate was based on a scenario where the spouse in question retires at the age of 67 and lives to the age of 90.

This example highlights just one of the many benefits that should be considered when going through a divorce. Those who are in the process or considering a divorce are wise to tread carefully. Forgetting to account for even one area could result in a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long-term.