Can You Claim Social Security Spousal Benefits After a Divorce?

Many people who claim Social Security receive retirement benefits equal to a percentage of income earned over their career. But that’s not always the best choice. In some cases, you may be better off opting for spousal benefits instead if your husband or wife earned more money than you did. 

Spousal benefits are worth up to 50% of the standard benefit your partner is entitled to at full retirement age. When your partner was the higher earner, this may be more than your own benefits would be. And if you didn’t work enough to become eligible for retirement checks, spousal benefits may be your only source of Social Security income later in life. 

Unfortunately, some people aren’t aware of the rules related to different types of Social Security payments. That can be an especially big problem if you’re divorced. If your marriage has ended, it’s important you know spousal benefits can still be available under certain circumstances. 

When can you claim Social Security spousal benefits after a divorce?

The rules for Social Security spousal benefits are simple. If you were married for at least 10 years, you’re eligible to receive them even if your relationship has been legally dissolved. You can claim them as long as you haven’t remarried someone else. 

Spousal benefits become available at age 62, just as retirement benefits do. However, you’ll shrink the amount of them if you claim before your full retirement age. That’s between 66 and four months and 67, depending on when you were born. 

The one exception to a reduced spousal benefit is if you are taking care of your ex spouse’s child in the first month you file for benefits. In that case, the spousal benefit is not reduced (but is still restricted to age 62 at the earliest). 

Unlike standard Social Security retirement benefits, you’re not able to increase the amount of spousal benefits if you wait beyond full retirement age to file for benefits. As a result, there’s no advantage to waiting beyond your FRA to start your payments. 

Unfortunately, you aren’t permitted to claim both spousal benefits and retirement benefits, though. You’ll get the higher of the two payments when you file for your checks to start. 

Do you have to wait for your ex to claim their Social Security checks to get spousal benefits?

While spousal benefits provide the same amount of income whether you’re currently married or divorced when claiming them, there’s one key rule that differs if your relationship has been dissolved. 

If you’ve been divorced for at least two years prior to filing for spousal benefits, you don’t have to wait until your husband or wife starts their own retirement checks in order to claim yours.  In contrast, when a couple is still legally wed, spousal benefits don’t become available until the primary earner begins receiving their own benefits.  

The ability to claim your benefits irrespective of what your spouse is doing is good news since it means you don’t have to coordinate your retirement date with an ex partner. Your ex also has no input into decisions you make regarding spousal benefits and in fact, won’t even be notified if you’ve claimed them. 

Since maximizing your Social Security income is a smart move, it pays to know these rules so you can decide what type of benefits to claim and when to claim them — and so you can plan for how much money you’ll receive once your checks start coming in.

As a next step in your learning about this topic, you should consider joining the nearly 400,000 subscribers on my YouTube channel! This is where I break down the complex rules and help you figure out how to use them to your advantage. 

And don’t leave without getting your FREE copy of my Social Security Cheat Sheet. The most important stuff from the 100,000 page website is all condensed down to just ONE PAGE! Get your FREE copy here.

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