Can a Divorced Spouse Collect on Disability Benefits or Social Security Income?

By Travis Gray, J.D.

Can a Divorced Spouse Collect on Disability Benefits or Social Security Income?

By Travis Gray, J.D.

Depending on a number of factors including the length of your previous marriage, you may be eligible to collect some of the Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse's prior earnings. However, the specific types of benefits you are entitled to vary depending on your earnings as well as the earnings of your prior spouse.

Glasses, pen, and a document labeled "Social Security Benefits" on a desk

There are three primary types of benefits you can apply for: retirement, disability, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is the only one of the three that is available to a person who didn't pay into the Social Security system.

If you receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse's record, their own benefits won't be reduced even if you collect benefits due to their record.

Eligibility for Social Security Benefits

Your eligibility to collect benefits based on your ex-spouse's prior earnings depends on a number of factors. First, you must be single in order to collect on your their record. If you have remarried, you are not eligible. However, if you married a second time and that marriage has ended, you are again eligible to collect based on your first spouse's record.

Additionally, there is an age requirement. Your ex-spouse must be at least 62 years old in order to qualify, and you must have been married for at least 10 years prior to divorcing. While the outcome of your divorce won't have an immediate impact on your potential Social Security benefits, those benefits are just one part of your financial situation. If you don't approach your divorce diligently, you may find yourself in a tough financial spot years down the road.

Potential Benefits After Divorce

At most, you can collect half of the benefits your ex-spouse would be entitled to at their full retirement age. The retirement age varies depending on the year your ex-spouse was born. Your potential recovery will also be reduced if you apply for benefits before you reach your own retirement age.

If you wait until your full retirement age, you have the option to file what's known as a restricted application. A restricted application allows you to accept the benefits available to you through your ex-spouse while allowing your own personal benefits to continue to age. Once you reach the age of 70, you can switch to your own benefit amount if it is greater than what you were receiving. In the alternative, if you are older and it would result in a larger award for you, you are entitled to switch from your benefits to your ex-spouse's.

The Social Security Administration makes it simple by comparing the amount of the benefits you are entitled to compare to what you would get from your ex-spouse and then awards you the higher amount. This decision is automatic, so there is no decision to be made on your end.

It is important to note that if you begin accepting these benefits but continue to work after your full retirement age, you may be forced to pay back some of those benefits. Collecting Social Security benefits from your former spouse's record can provide you with an opportunity to make ends meet, but taking advantage of the system could leave you off worse than when you started.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.