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Collecting Social Security on a Former Spouse: What You Need to Know

InspireHer: Plancorp Women’s Initiative

 Jessie Weiss By: Jessie Weiss

Social Security is complicated enough as it is—let alone when you’re trying to navigate it in the light of a divorce or loss of a partner.

I recently wrote a blog post on the top questions I get about Social Security in general, but I felt this topic warranted its own post due to its complex nature. Here’s what you need to know about collecting Social Security on a former spouse.

If You’re Divorced:

You can still collect Social Security on your ex-spouse. If you were married at least 10 years, are still single and are both at least 62 years old, you may be able to collect on your ex’s work history. Even if your ex hasn’t started taking his or her Social Security benefits, you can start collecting if you’ve been divorced at least two years.

To get the most out of these benefits, you’ll want to consider waiting until your Full Retirement Age (FRA) and filing a restricted claim for (ex) spousal benefits only.* (If you’re not sure what your FRA is, click here.)  Then, wait until you turn 70 to collect your own retirement benefit, once your benefit has reached its maximum amount.

When you go to your Social Security office to file, be sure to bring your:

  • Divorce decree
  • Date of marriage
  • Place of marriage
  • End of marriage date
  • Marriage license (not always necessary, but recommended)
  • Former spouse’s name, SSN, birthday

If Your Spouse Has Passed Away: 

You and your children can receive benefits if your spouse had credit for 1½ years of work in the three years prior to his or her death. You must be married for at least nine months, and an earnings test does apply. A one-time, non-taxable, lump-sum death payment is due to the survivor from Social Security for $255.

As a widow or widower, you can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60 and full retirement benefits at your FRA. However, if you are disabled (and the disability started before or within seven years of your spouse’s death), you can start taking benefits as early as 50. If you remain unmarried and are taking care of a child that is under 16 or disabled, you can start taking benefits at any age.

There are some creative claiming strategies for survivors because if you claim your survivor benefit prior to FRA, that will not reduce your own benefit (assuming you meet all qualifications for a self-benefit). You could also choose to take your own benefit early and then switch to your survivor’s benefit at FRA.

Your children can also receive survivor benefits if they are unmarried and under the age of 18 (or 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full time). A child can get benefits at any age if he/she was disabled before the age of 22 and remains disabled. Stepchildren, grandchildren and adopted children may also receive benefits under some circumstances.

If Your Ex-Spouse Has Passed Away:

Similar rules apply from a survivor benefit perspective if your ex-spouse has predeceased you. You must have been married at least 10 years and currently be unmarried to claim a benefit from a deceased ex-spouse.  If you wait until after the age of 60 to remarry, you can also claim. Surprisingly, both the current spouse and former spouse(s) are eligible for survivor benefits off of the same deceased individual’s record.

For more general information on Social Security, view my blog on frequently asked questions. As intimidating as it can seem, Social Security plays a major part in helping you reach your financial life goals. Your Wealth Manager will be glad to discuss any questions or concerns you have, as they relate to this topic or otherwise.


*Only applies if you turned 62 before 12/31/2015. 
This post was written by a member of InspireHer, Plancorp’s Women’s Initiative, which strives to advocate for clients and women in the community by addressing topics specific to their financial lives. For more information about InspireHer and how you can get involved, email

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Jessie earned her BSBA in Finance at St. Louis University’s John Cook School of Business. She had the opportunity to spend one semester in Rome, Italy, and took advantage of backpacking through a number of countries while overseas. After graduating, Jessie worked as a Credit Analyst at The Business Bank of Saint Louis and a Treasury Analyst at Saint Louis University (SLU). She earned her MBA with a concentration in management while working at the University. More »

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