Post-divorce: claiming your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits

You and your ex were married for most of your lives. But after the kids were grown and the spark was gone, you started to question why you were still together. You made the decision to call it quits, and you went through the long process of dividing up all of your shared property from your years together. Now you have your own house, a personal bank account and a single stream of income.

One thing you may not realize, however, is that once you’re divorced, you could still qualify for Social Security benefits from your ex-spouse’s work history. Here’s how it works:

Basic requirements

To claim spousal Social Security benefits, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You were married to your ex for at least a decade.
  • You didn’t remarry.
  • You’re at least 62 (unless your ex has passed away, in which case different eligibility requirements apply for survivor’s benefits).
  • Your spouse is currently eligible to get Social Security benefits.

Retirement timeframe

When you divorced also impacts the requirements you must satisfy.

  • You divorced less than two years ago: You can only claim benefits on your ex’s record if they have already started claiming benefits.
  • You divorced more than two years ago: Your ex’s current benefit status doesn’t come into play. You can claim spousal benefits on your ex’s work history anytime.

Does it make sense to claim spousal benefits?

It’s important to emphasize that it’s only worthwhile to claim spousal benefits if the amount you would stand to receive through this method—which is 50 percent of whatever your ex-spouse would earn—is higher than what you would receive in Social Security benefits through your own work history. It’s worthwhile to fully investigate how claiming spousal benefits would impact your situation.

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