Understanding Social Security Survivor Benefits After Divorce

Here at WIFE, we have written several articles about the huge Social Security benefits women can receive if they were married to their husbands for at least ten years before their divorce. When you reach retirement age, you are eligible to receive benefits equivalent to 50% of your ex-husband’s Social Security benefits if that amount is greater than what you would otherwise receive. This can be extremely helpful for women who do not qualify for much Social Security because they stayed home to raise the kids or take care of the household during their working years.

What you may not realize is that your benefit could be even higher when your ex-husband passes away. At that point, you may be eligible for something called “Survivor Benefits” which are the equivalent of 100% of your ex-husband’s Social Security benefits. Let’s see how this works and how you might be able to dramatically increase how much you receive in Social Security.

What Are Survivor Benefits?

The U.S. government recognizes that many spouses (mostly women) chose to stay home and raise children or take care of the household during their working years. As a result, they may earn little or no Social Security. When the higher earning spouse dies, this could leave the lower-earning spouse in dire financial straits, since he or she would lose the higher earning spouse’s monthly Social Security benefits. Since women are more likely to outlive their husbands, this could mean a whole generation of grandmas living in poverty!

To avoid this unpleasant reality, the government allows surviving spouses to receive an amount equal to 100% of their deceased spouse’s Social Security benefit in certain cases. Best of all for you, the survivor benefits may also be available for divorced spouses!

How to Qualify for Survivor Benefits

Has your ex-spouse passed away? You may be eligible for survivor benefits. Here are the requirements. You must:

  • Have been married to your spouse for at least ten years
  • Be at least 60 years old
  • Not be eligible for benefits greater than the survivor benefits

Even if your ex-spouse remarried, you can still receive the survivor benefits without affecting the current spouse’s benefit. You could also be remarried and qualify for the survivor benefits if you remarried at age 60 or older.

These are only the basic rules, so contact the Social Security Administration to ensure that you do, in fact, qualify. Do not overlook this major benefit. Even a few extra hundred dollars a month can make a huge difference, especially if you are living on a fixed income. It can’t hurt to check your qualification!

If you are considering a divorce, keep this information in mind as it might make sense for you to stay in the marriage a little longer if you are nearing your ten-year anniversary. For more great advice on divorce, be sure to sign up for our next Second Saturday Divorce Workshop in your area.

More on this topic: The Benefits of Being Married Ten Years

12 thoughts on “Understanding Social Security Survivor Benefits After Divorce”

    1. Yes, what you receive can be retirement benefits based on your former spouse’s earnings history or your disability benefits, whichever is greater. For most people, the disability benefits will be the greater amount, so that’s what you will get, but it doesn’t hurt to ask Social Security folks to figure it both ways and see.

  1. My ex-husband died in 2013 at age 58. He applied for disability in 2011 and had been turned down and was appealing at the time of his death. Our youngest child was 21 and in college but over the age survivor benefits (I was told). I was 54 at the time and working however my company was sold the following year and I was out of work. Since March 2014, I have had a series of low paying jobs min wage to $12/hr and I believe it is due to age discrimination.
    I am currently 62 and out of work. If my ex never applied for SS and obviously never reached full retirement age, is it possible to collect his now and then my own at age 70?
    He became self employed after our divorce, complaining he couldn’t afford the high child support amt for our 3 kids so they allowed him to pay a reduced amount based on his income, so I don’t expect his earnings to be real high. Is there a way to get his amount before I make a decision? For me to file at 62 would not be enough to live on.

    1. Yes, you can begin collecting social security benefits on his earnings record if that exceeds your own benefits. But those benefits will be reduced because you are not yet full social security retirement age. And it will be further reduced if you have a job that pays more than around $18,000 or so, it’s reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over that amount (it changes each year).

  2. I am 68 years old and collecting social security with my second husbands benefits since he passed away in 2016. He was my second husband. I was married 20 years to my first husband who is currently collecting his social security benefits. If he should pass away and I’m still living would I be entitled to his social security if it is higher than my second husband’s social security? I was married 17 years to my second husband

  3. I was married 30 years to my ex husband. I am 69 and receiving Social Security on his work record. If he dies will I be entitled to more than 50 percent of his retirement?

  4. My ex-husband passed away on 2/14/2019. We were married on 4/1/1982 and divorce on 6/29/1992. An other women claims she was married to him on 2/6/1992. I will be 66, this year. I would appreciate knowing what is my position with Social Security? Plus, would I be able To collect 100% of his benefits?

  5. I was married 30 yrs to one man he died 4 yrs ago but we were still good friend we were married in 1978. Divorced. 2009 do i qulify for his social security

    1. You are a surviving divorced spouse and entitled to benefits similar to what a widow would get. You can get reduced benefits as young as age 60, or wait until your full retirement age of 66+ to get full benefits. You will get the greater of your own benefits or surviving divorced spouse benefits.

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