Divorce and Retirement Social Security Benefits FAQs

Divorce can be very difficult to navigate, and there is growing evidence that its effects can wreck even the most carefully crafted retirement plans. Therefore, it is important to understand how this life altering event can impact your social security benefits in retirement. In many cases, you may receive a greater benefit based on your ex-spouse’s record, than you would based on your own record. We have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions regarding the intersection of divorce and retirement social security benefits. If you have specific questions regarding your particular situation, call us at (585) 232-8560; we would be happy to help you.


1. If I get divorced, can I still collect benefits based on my ex-spouse’s record?

It depends. In order to collect benefits based on your living ex-spouse’s record, you must have been married for at least 10 years; AND, you must be currently unmarried; AND, you must be over 62 years of age.

2. Can I receive Social Security benefits and continue working?

Yes, but there are some restrictions. If you are younger than full retirement age and earn more than the Social Security annual earnings limit, your benefit will be reduced. Once you reach full retirement age, your benefits will no longer be reduced, regardless of how much you earn.

3. What if my ex-spouse dies?

You would be considered a surviving ex-spouse. You can collect benefits if your marriage lasted 10 or more years, AND you are currently unmarried or you remarried after the age of 60 (age 50 if disabled). (If you are still caring for a child of your deceased ex-spouse, who is disabled or 16 years or less, you will not have to meet the 10 year threshold.)

4. If I choose to receive my ex-spouse’s social security benefits, will I have to tell them?

No. The Social Security Administration will not notify them either. However, to apply for benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, you will need to provide their social security number OR their birthday, place of birth and parents’ names.

5. How much of the benefit will I receive?

You are eligible to receive half of your living ex-spouse’s retirement. If they predecease you, you can receive up to their full retirement benefit.

6. What happens if my ex-spouse remarries?

It will not affect your benefits at all. Your ex-spouse’s benefits also will not be affected, and neither will their new spouse’s benefits.

7. If my ex-spouse dies and they were remarried, what happens to my surviving ex-spouse benefits?

If you meet all of the qualifying criteria, you are entitled to the same widower/widow benefits regardless of how many times your ex-spouse was remarried. The benefits are not split; each spouse/ex-spouse gets their own, provided they each meet the criteria.

8. What if my ex-spouse hasn’t started collecting their own benefits yet?

As long as your ex-spouse is 62 years or older, AND you have been divorced two or more years, AND you meet all of the other qualifying criteria, you can start collecting benefits on their record, even if they haven’t.

Social Security benefits will not be sent to you automatically. You must submit an application. This can be done online, at www.ssa.gov.

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