The Informed Investor

Can a Divorced Person Collect Social Security Using Their Ex’s Salary History?

January 2, 2024


You may be able to collect based on your ex-spouse’s work record if you were married for at least 10 years.

To do so, the requirements say you cannot have remarried and you must be at least 62 years old.

Gender is irrelevant. The relative size of incomes during the marriage is what matters.

Yes, it’s complicated.

A lot of people get married. A lot of people get divorced. A lot of people get Social Security. Whether a divorcee can collect Social Security which is calculated based on their ex-spouse’s work record is a complicated issue and doesn’t happen a lot. If you think you might qualify for Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work history, you might find the information below quite beneficial. And when it comes to gender dynamics, it might even be surprising.

The basics of how divorce affects Social Security

The Social Security Administration (SSA) lays out some specific conditions to make a claim on an ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits. Basically, the SSA says you must have been married for at least 10 years, divorced for at least two years, be currently unmarried, and be at least 62 years old. You can have remarried and later become single again, as long as you’re not currently married.

It should also be noted that your ex-spouse’s marital status doesn’t matter. They just have to be entitled to Social Security benefits and must be eligible for more benefits based on their work record than you are based on yours.

Gender or same-sex marriage does not impact the eligibility for Social Security benefits in the context of a divorce. The laws governing Social Security benefits are gender neutral, meaning that both men and women have equal rights to claim benefits based on their ex-spouse’s work record. Same-sex couples who were legally married and later divorced also are eligible to claim benefits under the same rules as opposite-sex couples.

Here’s where it gets a bit more complicated

Like so many things around explaining relationships, collecting on the ex’s benefits can be complicated.  For instance, if both spouses made roughly the same income during the marriage, there might not be much difference between the benefits received. These rules are generally of interest in situations where one ex-spouse earned substantially more than the other. This is when the lower-earning ex-spouse has an opportunity to potentially collect a higher benefit amount based on the ex-spouse’s work record.

The divorced spouse’s benefit – as it’s called — can be up to 50% of the ex-spouse’s full retirement benefit, the amount they would draw at their full retirement age, which is now 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

The divorced spouse’s benefit is not impacted by the ex-spouse’s decision to remarry. Unlike spousal benefits for current spouses, the divorced spouse’s benefit remains intact even if the ex-spouse remarries, as long as the now-single individual meets the other eligibility requirements.

No hit on the ex’s bottom line

For the ex-spouses out there looking to get back at their ex-spouses by collecting in such a way that it somehow lowers what the ex would otherwise receive, the system doesn’t work that way. The SSA says, “If you have a divorced spouse who qualifies for benefits, it will not affect the amount of benefits you or your family may receive.” So, collecting on your ex-spouse’s work record won’t affect their payouts.

It’s also important to note that if you start receiving Social Security benefits based on your own work record, you may still be eligible to switch to your ex-spouse’s benefit later on if it offers a higher amount.

As with everything related to retirement planningwhen to claim Social Security benefits can have significant implications, regardless of marital status, and there are a lot of factors that go into collecting these benefits. Consider consulting with the SSA itself, a trusted financial advisor, or, at the least, really thoroughly doing your homework before moving forward with a claim.


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