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Divorce Spouse and Survivor Benefits (The Social Security Conundrum -- Part IIII)

In the final component of our four-part series on Social Security, we are diving into how best to manage your divorce spouse or survivor benefits. And equally as important, understanding how and when you are eligible.

Divorce Spouse Benefits

Divorce spouse benefits have very similar properties to spousal benefits, as long as you meet the following qualifications:

  1. Your marriage lasted 10 or more years.
  2. The person receiving the benefit is currently unmarried.
  3. Your ex-spouse is currently at least age 62.
  4. Your divorce took place more than 2 years ago.

It is important to note that it does not matter how many times your ex-spouse was married (you may be their third or even fifth marriage), you will still qualify for the divorced spouse benefit. The benefits paid to any other ex-spouses do not affect the benefits you will receive.

If you’ve met all the qualifications, you can now apply for your divorce benefits. In order to do so, you will need to have your divorce decree.

While this may sound simple, should you decide to remarry after your divorce you will stop receiving your divorce benefits as you will now share in your new spouse’s benefits. If your ex-spouse remarries at any time while you are receiving their divorce benefits, this will have no impact on your benefit.

Survivor Benefits

In this instance when we’re talking about survivor benefits, we are speaking directly about spousal survivor benefits (children benefits is a topic for another blog!). In order to receive survivor benefits, you must meet the following qualifications:

  1. Been married for at least 9 months, unless the death came from a sudden accident.
  2. Survivor must be at least 60 years old to receive reduced benefits. Or of retirement age to receive full benefits. If the survivor is disabled they are eligible to collect the survivor benefit at age 50.

While there are fewer qualifications to collecting a survivor benefit, you will not be eligible for your survivor benefit if you remarry before the age of 60; 50 if you are disabled. If your spouse passes, and you refrain from remarrying until after 60, you will still be entitled to their survivor benefit.

In most cases, survivors are looking to collect their benefits at age 60, or more. If you are a survivor it is important to maximize your benefits. When you are eligible to begin collecting benefits, it’s important to consider the sequence in which you collect them, as you’ll want to optimize the benefits. My stand by advice is to always collect on the lower benefits - if the deceased benefits are less than yours, collect them first and allow your benefits to continue to grow. You can then collect these at a later date.

As this is our fourth and final piece on social security, it’s hopefully clear that while the rules have changed social security is still a complicated process.

You will want to ensure you’re always making the best call to maximize your benefits, and that requires some strategic thinking (and a good calculator!). While it is our hope that after these articles you’re beginning to understand the big picture of social security, we still always recommend seeking professional help to ensure you’re headed in the right direction.

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Larry Heller, Not Your Average Advisor.


A CFP® (Certified Financial Planner) and a former CPA.

Has helped solve complex financial planning for 20+ yrs.

Member of Wealth Management Think Tank.

A financial advisor think tank that meets monthly to discuss investment strategies and planning opportunities.

Larry is approached regularly by the respected journals.

“Journal of Financial Planning”, and “The Wall Street Journal”.