America’s Social Security program provides economic security to millions. The Social Security program provides you with a source of income when you retire, or if you can’t work due to a disability. It can also provide benefits that support your legal dependents (your spouse, children, or parents) in the event of your death.

So, it’s especially important to understand Social Security benefits for divorced women so that you can make smart choices for your financial future, and ensure you’ll enjoy a comfortable and secure retirement.

How Social Security Benefits Are Determined

Social Security replaces a percentage of your pre-retirement income, based on your lifetime earnings. The portion of your pre-retirement wages that Social Security replaces is based on your highest 35 years of earnings and varies depending on how much you earn and when you choose to start benefits.

Claiming My Own Benefit

If you qualify for benefits on your own earnings record, you’ll be entitled to receive them as soon as you’re eligible. Eligibility is based on your age. The earliest you can claim your benefit is 62, but it will be a reduced benefit. Your so-called “full retirement age” is when you’re eligible for an unreduced Social Security benefit. Your full retirement age depends on when you were born. If you’re willing and able to delay the start of your benefits, you can receive a higher monthly payment.

When Should I Claim My Social Security Benefit?

It’s not always straight-forward to determine when you should apply for your Social Security benefit. That’s because the strategy that produces the largest lifetime benefit for you may not fit with your overall financial and retirement plan. For example, delaying Social Security beyond full retirement age means you’ll need other financial resources to provide income for the period between the date you stop working and that when your higher benefits begin. And delaying your benefits well beyond full retirement age generally only makes sense if you plan to live well into your 80s or 90s.

Claiming an Ex-Spousal Benefit

What if you took time out of the workforce, perhaps because you were raising kids and maintaining your home? Well, even if you never worked under Social Security, you may be entitled to a so-called spousal benefit.

And what if you were married and later divorced? You may still be able to receive a spousal benefit on your ex-spouse’s record, depending on a number of factors.

To be eligible to claim an ex-spousal benefit:

  • Your ex-spouse must be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits
  • Your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years
  • You must be unmarried (though it doesn’t matter if your ex-spouse has remarried)
  • You must be at least 62 years old

If you’ve been married (for at least 10 years) and divorced more than once, you can claim a divorced spousal benefit on the ex-spouse with the largest benefit.

As with a married spouse, the maximum divorced spousal benefit is 50% of the worker’s benefit at full retirement age. If your ex-spouse delays filing for benefits beyond full retirement age, their benefit will increase, but your ex-spousal benefit will not.

To receive your maximum ex-spousal benefit, you should wait to claim until you reach your full retirement age.

The following flowchart can help you understand whether you’re eligible for an ex-spousal benefit (clicking on image opens chart in new tab):

Here are some common questions and answers regarding ex-spousal Social Security benefits:

Q: Can I choose whether to claim my own benefit or my ex-spouse’s?
A: Yes, but you will always be entitled to receive the larger of the two benefits – your own, and your divorced spousal benefit.

Q: What happens if I remarry?
A: If you remarry, you will no longer be entitled to receive a divorced spousal benefit. However, if your ex-spouse has died and you’re age 60 or older, getting remarried won’t affect your eligibility for survivor benefits.

Q: How do I start the process of claiming a benefit on my ex-spouse’s record?
A: Contact the Social Security Administration, and be prepared to provide them with some information and documents.

Q: Will my ex-spouse getting remarried affect my divorced spousal benefit?
A: No, your spouse remarrying will not affect your ability to receive a divorced spousal benefit.

Q: If my ex-spouse claims Social Security first, will change the amount I’m entitled to?
A: No, your divorced spousal benefit is based on your ex-spouse’s benefit at his full retirement age, whether he has begun claiming benefits or not.

Claiming a Deceased Ex-Spousal Benefit

If your ex-spouse has died, you may be entitled to receive Social Security survivor benefits, which have different eligibility rules than those for a living ex-spouse. For example, you can apply for benefits as early as age 60, rather than at 62. And if you remarry after age 60, your remarriage won’t affect your eligibility to receive a survivor benefit.

The percentage of your deceased ex-spouse’s benefit that you’re entitled to receive depends on a number of factors:

  • If you’ve reached your full retirement age, you’re eligible to receive 100%
  • If you’re at least 60 but not yet at full retirement age, you’re eligible to receive between 71.5% and 99%
  • If you’re 50 to 59 and disabled, you’re eligible to receive 71.5%

As a surviving divorced spouse you can’t apply online for your Social Security benefit – you need to contact Social Security directly, either by phone or in-person.

The following flowchart can help you understand whether you’re eligible for a deceased ex-spousal benefit (clicking on image opens chart in new tab):

Getting Help From an Advisor

If you need help with Social Security planning, consider working with a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) or a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®). Advisors who hold these designations had to meet rigorous educational, experience and ethics requirements.

Contact us today to learn how a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® can help guide you and answer your financial questions before, during, and post-divorce.