Social Security Benefits for Divorced Wives

By Beverly Bird

Divorcing after a long-term marriage can leave a wife in a financial pickle at retirement age if she gave most of her time to her family and home during the marriage, because Social Security benefits are based on the contributions you've made over the years. The Social Security Administration protects such spouses, but limitations and qualifications apply.

10-Year Option

Social Security’s “magic number” for the duration of a marriage is 10 years. When spouses divorce after a 10-year marriage, the wife has the option of claiming either her own benefits at age 62, or half of her husband’s benefits when his are greater. It does not reduce the benefits of the higher-earning spouse if his ex-wife claims half of his Social Security entitlement rather than her own.

Limitations

A divorced wife must choose between accepting her own benefits or half of her spouse’s benefits; she can’t “double dip.” If she remarries, it curtails her right to claim her portion of her former husband’s benefits, until or unless she is widowed or divorced a second time. When she has two or more ex-husbands, and each of those marriages exceeded 10 years, she must claim the highest benefit available to her. Social Security imposes no such restrictions on the higher-earning spouse. He can remarry without affecting his former wife’s benefits.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Survivor Benefits

A wife’s Social Security survivor benefits continue after a divorce if her ex-husband dies. She receives full benefits if her marriage lasted 10 years or more. The pivotal age for survivor benefits is 60. If a woman remarries before she turns 60 years of age, she loses her ex-husband's survivor benefits entirely, unless she divorces again or her second husband dies. If she remarries after the age of 60, she can collect her ex-husband’s survivor benefits regardless of her remarriage. If her second husband predeceases her and she is 62 years old or older, she can switch over and collect survivor benefits from that husband if it results in a greater amount.

Other Options

If her ex-husband is older than she is, a wife can begin collecting her portion of his Social Security benefits if she is younger than age 62, as long as he has reached retirement age. However, her entitlement is usually less than 50 percent if she elects to do this.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Divorcing a Retired Man

References

Related articles

Military Divorce Benefits When Married Less Than 10 Years

Losing access to military benefits can be one of the most difficult financial hits a non-military spouse faces in divorce. The applicable federal law, called the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act -- known as the USFSPA -- addresses the circumstances under which a non-military spouse can keep military benefits. Generally, spouses do not receive any military benefits for marriages less than 20 years.

What Is the Spouse's Rights When Divorcing Someone Who Receives Railroad Benefits?

If a person is divorcing a railroad worker, she may have a right to part of his retirement benefits and a spousal benefit of her own. The Railroad Retirement Board oversees the railroad retirement benefit system and federal laws regulate railroad benefit division in a divorce.

Divorce Law for Pensions & Percentages in Alabama

When Alabama spouses divorce, they must divide their property — or allow the court to decide how it should be divided. Alabama courts may consider pensions and other retirement benefits to be marital property, subject to division in a divorce. However, pensions are treated a bit differently than other property since they cannot be divided unless the spouses were married for at least 10 years.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Can an Ex-Wife Get Retirement Pay From the Husband if He Retired After the Divorce?

Courts divide marital property -- including retirement benefits -- when a couple divorces. Even if a spouse has not yet ...

Social Security Benefits for a Non-Working Spouse After a Divorce

Social Security administers retirement and disability insurance programs. To be eligible for benefits, you must earn ...

VA Benefits for Divorced Spouses

Most military benefits to a spouse automatically terminate once a divorce is finalized, but some former military ...

How to Divorce at 60 Years Old

Divorce is never an easy process, and when you’re nearing retirement age, a whole host of new considerations crops up. ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED