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How much Social Security does a divorced spouse get?

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Retirement funds may be particularly top of mind if you're going through a divorce in your later years. You may wonder if you're eligible to collect Social Security based on your ex-spouse's record—and, if so, how much you're entitled to.

So, how much Social Security does a divorced spouse get? Just as marriages and government programs can be complicated, so can navigating Social Security after a marriage ends.

When it comes to Social Security benefits and divorce, the federal government has rules regarding divorced spouse benefits and surviving divorced spouse benefits. A lot factors into it, including the length of your marriage, your age, whether or not you've remarried or have dependents, and more. Here's where to start.

How does divorce impact Social Security payments?

Social Security payments aren't considered to be income that can be split along with other assets, per federal law, and they can't be negotiated in mediation. Clauses in divorce decrees that state a spouse relinquishes their rights to Social Security on their ex's record are "worthless and are never enforced" if the marriage lasted at least 10 years, according to the Social Security Administration.

In fact, the agency goes on to say that "the same payment rules apply to divorced wives and widows as to current wives and widows." However, a divorced spouse must meet certain conditions to qualify for the benefits of a former spouse.

How much Social Security does a divorced spouse get?

You could receive up to 50% of the amount your living ex-spouse would collect at "full retirement age." That marker is determined by birth year and varies from age 66 to 67.

The age you start benefits factors into the amount you receive. Your monthly funds likely will be reduced if you haven't yet reached your own full retirement age. Notably, you won't get a financial boost if you wait to file past that significant milestone age. This is different from when you apply on your own record. In that case, your benefit amount will increase when you delay beyond your full retirement age, up to age 70.

This Social Security eligibility tool can help you determine whether you qualify for divorced spouse benefits.

What are the eligibility requirements to receive Social Security from an ex-spouse?

  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • You are at least 62 years old.
  • You are unmarried.
  • Your former spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
  • If you're entitled to benefits on your own work record, the amount must be less than you would receive based on your former spouse's record. Social Security generally pays the higher benefit amount.

What if you're ready to apply for Social Security benefits but your ex-spouse hasn't yet?

You still can receive payments on their record if:

  • Your ex-spouse can qualify for them.
  • Your ex-spouse is at least 62 years old.
  • You've been divorced for at least two years.

How is Social Security impacted if your former spouse dies?

The scenario changes if your ex-spouse has passed away. If you meet specific conditions, you can apply for survivor benefits, which could pay a higher rate. You could receive up to 100% of a late ex-spouse's payment if you start benefits at your full retirement age. Keep in mind that the full retirement age for survivors isn't necessarily the same age that applies for retirement benefits.

You may be able to apply for survivor benefits if you've been collecting spousal benefits or if you've been drawing retirement benefits from your own work record. To qualify for surviving divorced spouse benefits, you must meet these conditions:

  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • You are not married, or you remarried after you turned 60 (or 50 if you have a disability).
  • You are at least 60 years old (or 50 if you have a disability).
  • If you're entitled to benefits on your own work record, the amount must be less than you would receive based on your ex-spouse's record.
  • If you are caring for a child of your former spouse who is under 16 or is disabled and entitled to benefits, age and length-of-marriage requirements don't apply.

How does remarriage change Social Security benefits from a former spouse?

If your former spouse is still living, keep in mind that marrying someone else typically means you won't be able to collect on the work record of your former spouse. Additionally, if your former spouse is deceased and you wed again before age 60 (or age 50 if you have a disability) and stay married, you typically won't qualify for survivor benefits of your former partner.

If you have more than one former spouse, you may be eligible for benefits based on the work record of the higher earner. Meanwhile, it doesn't matter if your ex-spouse remarries if you want to collect on their benefits. There are a few circumstances where you may not lose your Social Security when you remarry. Determine whether you're eligible to keep collecting after you remarry, particularly if your new spouse receives survivor benefits, divorced-spouse benefits or childhood disability benefits.

Seek help to maximize your retirement benefits

Naturally, you probably have plenty of questions about Social Security and what you're entitled to after a divorce. It's important to carefully analyze the various options relating to the Social Security payments you could receive as a divorced spouse, including the age you apply for retirement benefits and on whose record you claim. You also need to consider whether you'll need to pay taxes on the Social Security you collect. And if your ex-spouse continues working while receiving benefits, the excess earnings limitation that applies to them also applies to you and could reduce the amount you receive. There also may be exceptions to the rules that prove important to your individual situation.

Going through a divorce in your later years can be a confusing time, so don't hesitate to ask for help with your financial strategy. Connect with a Thrivent financial advisor who can help you evaluate your financial situation and lay out options as you plan for the future.

Thrivent financial advisors and professionals have general knowledge of the Social Security tenets. For complete details on your situation, contact the Social Security Administration.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.