It’s no secret that a significant number of marriages end in divorce.

Couples over the age of 50 in particular are experiencing higher rates of divorce, with their numbers doubling between 1990 and 2014. People aged 50 or older made up about 8% of all Americans who got divorced in 1990; that figure jumped to 25% by 2014.1 A big question for those facing divorce after 50 may be how it could impact Social Security benefits.

The basics of Social Security and divorce.

If your marriage lasted at least 10 years, you can file a claim based on your ex’s benefit if all the following points are true:

  • You’re age 62 or older and unmarried.
  • Your ex-spouse qualifies for Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
  • The Social Security benefit you’re qualified for is less than your divorced spouse’s benefit.

If you start collecting your divorced spouse’s benefit at your full retirement age (FRA), you’ll generally receive half of what his or her full benefit amount would be at FRA. If you file for it before FRA, the benefit amount will be reduced.

It’s also important to know that if your ex-spouse is eligible for Social Security benefits but not yet collecting them, you can still file a claim based on his or her benefit if you’re eligible. You need to have been divorced for at least two years.

A bit beyond the basics.

Generally, if someone is collecting Social Security as a divorced spouse, it won’t impact the ex-spouse’s benefit amount or how much the ex-spouse’s new husband, wife, or children could receive. Let’s consider the following example:

  • John and Sally are married for 15 years and then divorce. Sally is eligible for a divorced spouse’s Social Security benefit at age 62 if unmarried.
  • John remarries Jennifer and they have four children.
  • When John becomes eligible to collect Social Security, the amount that Sally collects as an ex-spouse won’t reduce what John, Jennifer, or their children can receive if and when eligible.

Also, if you’re eligible for Social Security benefits based on your own work record and eligible to claim as an ex-spouse, you can’t “double dip.” For example, say you’re eligible for $100 per month based on your own earnings record and eligible for $300 per month based on your ex’s record. The maximum monthly benefit you can receive would be the greater of the two amounts, or $300 — not the sum of the two amounts.

Divorce can be complicated, and Social Security considerations can make the situation even more so.

The more you know about how Social Security works in divorces, the better equipped you can be to navigate this challenging landscape should you or someone you know be faced with it.


1 Hymowitz, C. (2016, September 29). Older Americans Are Jeopardizing Their Retirement With Divorce. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved October 25, 2016, from