In November 2022, VERIFY explained how Social Security makes payments to family members in the event of a person’s death.
We found that surviving divorced spouses can receive the same survivors benefits as a widow or widower, if they meet certain requirements.
That led several VERIFY readers, including Arlin, to ask if they can collect Social Security benefits based on their ex-spouse’s earnings while their ex is still alive.
Can you collect Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings while they’re alive?
Yes, you can collect Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings while they’re still alive, if you meet certain requirements. However, you can’t collect benefits based on your ex’s earnings in addition to your own.
WHAT WE FOUND
If you are divorced from someone who is entitled to Social Security benefits, you may be eligible to receive a percentage of the benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings history, the Social Security Administration (SSA) says. But you have to meet certain requirements.
You must be at least 62 years old and unmarried, and the marriage to your ex-spouse must have lasted for at least 10 years. If you have since remarried, you can’t collect Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings history unless your later marriage ended by annulment, divorce or death.
Additionally, if you are entitled to benefits based on your own earnings history, that benefit amount must be less than what you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work. Social Security will pay the higher of the two benefit amounts, but not both.
AARP explains that you can collect up to 50% of your ex-spouse’s primary insurance amount, or the monthly payment they are entitled to at full retirement age. A person’s full retirement age varies based on their birth year.
Ex-spouses can receive the maximum benefit amount if they file upon reaching full retirement age, AARP says. If you claim the benefits earlier, the amount is reduced to as low as 32.5% of your ex-spouse’s full benefit.
If your ex-spouse qualifies for retirement benefits but isn’t collecting them yet, you can still claim their benefits. But the divorce must have happened at least two years prior.
People born before Jan. 2, 1954, and who have already reached full retirement age, can choose to receive only their ex-spouse’s benefit and delay receiving their own until a later date. This option doesn’t exist if you were born after that date.
If your ex-spouse remarries, you are still eligible to collect their benefits if you meet the requirements, according to SSA. Any benefits you receive don’t reduce payments made to your ex or their current spouse if they remarried.
The earliest you can apply for divorced spouse benefits is three months before you turn 62 years old, AARP says. You can apply online, by calling 1-800-772-1213 or by making an appointment at your local Social Security office.
Divorced spouses are also eligible for survivors benefits in the event of their ex’s death, with different eligibility requirements. You can read more about survivors benefits here.