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Can I Collect on My Ex-Spouse’s Social Security Benefit After Divorce?

You may have seen or heard the term “gray divorce.” Gray divorce refers to marriage dissolutions that involve couples over the age of 50. National data shows that while the overall divorce rate has decreased, the rate of gray divorce has doubled over the past twenty years.

There are a number of reasons why couples make the decision to end their union after many years of marriage. It is not uncommon for couples who have children to put off divorcing until the children have grown and off on their own. Another factor that contributes to gray divorce is the empty nest syndrome – now that the children have gone off on their own, the couple realizes they have nothing left to hold the marriage together.

Other reasons cited by older couples for ending their marriage include financial stability, retirement, or an overall, long-term dissatisfaction with the marriage.

When an older couple is divorcing after many years of marriage, they may not have to address child custody or support issues, however, financial issues often become even more critical because of how “close” retirement may be looming.

If the they own a home or any other real estate, they will need to decide how this property will be divided. The division of any financial accounts, including retirement accounts and pensions, will also need to be determined. Whether one of the spouses qualifies for spousal support may also need to be addressed.

Planning for the Future After a Gray Divorce

Ending a marriage at any stage in life often raises concerns about future financial security. Instead of a two-income household, you are suddenly forced to now live on one income. This can be especially frustrating if your spouse was the primary breadwinner or if they earned more than you.

For couples who are going through a gray divorce, however, planning for that financial future can feel even more daunting the closer you are to retiring. You have spent years with your spouse, planning for your senior years, counting on 401(k) plans, pensions, and the combined Social Security benefits you and your now ex-spouse would be receiving. Instead, those retirement plans have been divided up and when the day comes when you do qualify, you will only have your Social Security retirement benefit to live on. And if you were the lesser wage earner for most of your marriage, your benefit check could be much less each month than theirs.

The good news is that you may be able to collect on your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefit. In order to qualify for benefits based on your ex’s earnings record, the following must apply:

    • You were married at least 10 years before you divorced.
    • You are at least 62 years of age.
    • You must be currently unmarried. If you had remarried, that marriage must have ended. If you do have more than one ex-spouse where the marriages lasted for at least 10 years, you can collect on either spouse’s earnings record, but not both.
    • The benefits you are entitled to receive based on your earnings record is less than what your ex-spouse is entitled to based on their earnings record.
    • If your ex-spouse has not yet filed for benefits, you can still file, however, you must have been divorced for at least two years.

Your benefit amount will be a combination of your personal benefit amount plus a portion of benefits that is based on your ex’s earnings record. Once you reach full retirement age, you are entitled to half of your ex’s benefit amount. For example, if your spouse’s monthly benefit amount is $1,800, then you would be entitled to $900 each month. If you file for benefits before you reach full retirement age, there may be a reduction in how much your monthly benefits check will be.

Also keep in mind, the amount you receive off of your ex-spouse’s earnings record in no way impacts the amount they will receive, so don’t hesitate to file for this benefit if you qualify.

Survivor Benefits

A spouse may also be entitled to receive Social Security survivor benefits even if you are divorced. Again, the marriage must have been longer than 10 years, you must not be currently married. You also cannot file unless you are 60 years old or older or 50 years of age if you are disabled. Remarriage after 60 does not affect survivor benefit eligibility.


If you qualify for Social Security benefits under your ex-spouse’s earnings record, then you may also qualify for Medicare under their work record, as well. You must be 65 years of age to file for Medicare and your ex-spouse must be at least 62.

Call Our Office for Legal Assistance Today

Divorce can be difficult no matter how long you and your spouse have been together. Having a skilled Rhode Island divorce attorney advocating for you can make all the difference in ensuring you get your fair share of the marital estate.

For more information on how we can help you, contact Kirshenbaum Law Associates at 401-467-5300.