9 Ways To Maximize Social Security Benefits if You’re Divorced

RETIREMENT - SOCIAL SECURITY
Transform your Social Security benefits after divorce with these savvy tactics.
Updated April 11, 2024
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Divorce impacts nearly all aspects of a couple’s lives — including their Social Security benefits. In fact, it might be possible to get ahead financially by collecting benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings.

If you are divorced or planning to divorce, here are some ways you might be able to maximize your Social Security benefits.

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Learn about how divorce impacts benefits

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There are some instances in which you might be able to receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings.

Not every divorced person is eligible for such benefits. But as part of your retirement planning, it makes sense to find out if you are among the folks who qualify.

Learn more by visiting the Social Security Administration (SSA) website or contacting a SSA field office.

Determine if you are eligible

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To be eligible to receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, you must meet the requirements set by the SSA. Some of these rules include:

  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years
  • You are at least 62 years of age
  • You remain unmarried

There are two more qualifications which we turn to next.

Figure out who has the larger benefit

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To qualify for a portion of your ex-spouse’s benefits, their benefits need to be more than what you would have received based on your time in the workforce.

So, if your ex-spouse receives a benefit higher than the benefit for which you are eligible, you may be eligible to apply for extra benefits based on your ex’s work record.

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Make sure you’re entitled to benefits

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You must also meet the general requirements for receiving Social Security benefits to be eligible for benefits on your ex-spouse’s work record.

That means you need to be at least 62 years old or older or have a recognized disability or blindness that meets SSA requirements.

Other requirements may determine whether you're eligible for Social Security benefits. Reach out to the SSA to find out more.

Check how long you have been divorced

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Before applying for benefits through your ex-spouse, you must have been divorced from your ex for at least two consecutive years.

Do some math to figure out how much you will receive

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To determine how much you might receive through an ex-spouse's benefit, look at your own benefit based on your work history.

Your payment will consist of that amount plus the amount needed to bring your benefit up to the same level as your ex's.

Consider when the best time to apply is

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If you apply for benefits on your ex-spouse’s record before your full retirement age, your benefit amount will be reduced. The full retirement age is between 65 and 67, depending on when you were born.

Some people might prefer to apply earlier rather than later. But as a general rule, it can be beneficial to wait until full retirement age or later before filing for benefits.

Know your own earning limits

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If you apply for Social Security benefits before full retirement age and continue to work, your monthly benefit might be temporarily reduced, depending on how much you earn.

That money will be added to your benefits once you reach full retirement age. But for now, you could end up with a smaller check than expected.

Once you reach full retirement age, you can earn as much as you like without impacting your benefits.

Be ready with the information you need to apply

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If you're divorced and ready to make some important retirement moves, see if you're eligible for Social Security benefits on your ex-spouse's record.

If so, file for Social Security benefits online or by visiting a local office. You can also call 1-800-772-1213.

You'll be asked to supply some key information, including:

  • The Social Security numbers for both you and your ex-spouse
  • Citizenship information
  • The dates of the marriage's beginning and end
  • Other details about the divorce

Make sure you have a birth certificate, a copy of U.S. military service papers, a copy of your W-2, and proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the U.S.

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Bottom line

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Social Security benefits often are available to ex-spouses. When it comes to receiving this benefit, don't worry about taking anything from your spouse: Your decision won't impact your ex-spouse's benefit in any way.

So, if you're looking to boost your financial fitness, see if you're eligible for this extra income during retirement.

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Author Details

Sandy Baker Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as Realtor.com, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.

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