Social Security Survivor Benefits After Divorce
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
A divorce may bring an end to a marriage, but in many cases it doesn't terminate eligibility for important benefits, including Social Security survivor benefits. If you've been divorced, you may receive Social Security survivor benefits should your former spouse die. Social Security survivor benefits for divorced spouses can provide an important source of income as you age. In most cases, your benefits won't reduce the assistance available to the rest of your ex-spouse's remaining family.
Who Qualifies for Surviving Divorced Spouse Benefits?
If your former spouse has died, you may be entitled to Social Security survivor benefits as a former spouse if you meet the following requirements:
- Your marriage lasted at least ten years.
- You're at least 60 years old, or 50 if disabled.
- You haven't remarried before the age of 60.
- Your prior spouse has died and had contributed sufficiently to Social Security before his or her death.
If you meet these requirements, you can receive Social Security survivor benefits equal to that of a surviving widow or widower. The benefits available are based on the contributions your ex-spouse made to Social Security before his or her death, as well as your own age when you begin collecting survivor benefits.
A divorced spouse who collects survivor benefits at full retirement age would be entitled to assistance equal to 100% of the deceased ex-husband or ex-wife's benefits. Full retirement age is 65 for those born before 1940 and increases incrementally to 67 for those born after 1962. However, you may begin collecting divorced spouse survivor benefits once you turn 60 years old, or at 50 years if you're disabled. Should you receive earlier benefits, the amount you receive will be reduced.
Additionally, if you have a child under age 16 with the deceased and are raising the child, you may be entitled to survivor benefits of 75% of the deceased's benefits, regardless of your age.
How Remarrying May Impact Your Benefits
If your ex-spouse remarries, you won't lose your ability to collect Social Security survivor benefits should he or she die. However, if you remarry, your ability to collect Social Security survivor benefits could be impacted, depending on the age at which you remarry.
- Before the age of 60, or 50 if you're disabled, any remarriage means you will no longer be entitled to survivor benefits should your ex-spouse die.
- After the age of 60, or 50 if you're disabled, your new marriage won't impact your eligibility for survivor benefits. If you're re-married after 60 and your new spouse passes away, you'll be entitled to whichever survivor benefit is largest, but you will only be able to collect one.
How Your Benefits May Impact Other Surviving Family
Filing for Social Security survivor benefits as a divorced spouse is private and involves only you and the Social Security Administration. The family of your ex-spouse won't be notified should you apply for benefits.
There's no limit to the number of people who may receive survivor benefits from a single worker's Social Security account. However, there is a maximum amount that Social Security will pay out: typically between 150 and 180 percent of the worker's monthly benefit. As a surviving divorced spouse, your benefits won't impact the maximum family benefit. This means that, should you collect survivor benefits, your payments can't reduce the benefits available to the deceased's remaining spouses or children.
There's only one case where your benefits will impact the maximum survivor benefit: when you're receiving benefits while raising the deceased's young child. In this situation, total benefits may be reduced if the maximum family benefit is reached.
If You're Entitled to Your Own Retirement Benefits
You may choose to collect Social Security survivor benefits after divorce even if you're entitled to your own Social Security retirement benefits. For example, your retirement benefits may be lower than your survivor benefits. You may elect to receive survivor benefits instead. If your retirement benefits are larger than your survivor benefits, you can still receive survivor benefits before you reach full retirement age, then switch to retirement benefits later, at an unreduced rate.
If you believe that you're entitled to Social Security survivor benefits as a divorced spouse, consider contacting a qualified Social Security attorney to discuss your options and protect your rights.
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