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Collecting Social Security Benefits of an Ex-Spouse

GUEST BLOGGER: Deborah Smith – Debbie is the resident divorce writer for Total Attorneys ( and you can read her blog at

Social Security benefits provide an income for retired or disabled people and their dependents. If a spouse dies, the surviving dependent spouse is generally entitled to the benefits.

In some cases, a former spouse may still collect some Social Security benefits of an ex-spouse. Generally, retirement accounts are part of the marital settlement discussion, but Social Security usually isn’t.

Upon reaching full retirement age, a divorced spouse may receive up to half of their ex-spouse’s Social Security benefit amount. In order to be eligible the marriage must have lasted for 10 or more years, the dependent spouse must not have remarried and must not be entitled to their own benefits that exceed half of the former spouse’s full benefit amount.

To collect an ex-spouse’s benefits, the ex-spouse must be eligible to receive their own benefits. If all requirements are met, the ex-dependent spouse may apply for the benefits, even if the spouse is deceased or has not yet applied.

If the ex-spouse is not already receiving their own Social Security benefits, they are required to wait two years after the divorce is final to apply for the spouse’s. If they are receiving their own, the two-year waiting period doesn’t apply.

Receiving Social Security Benefits of a Deceased Ex-Spouse

When an ex-spouse is deceased, the ex-dependent spouse may be able to collect Social Security benefits at 60 years old, and 50 years old if disabled. The ex-dependent spouse may be entitled to receive 100 percent of the amount if the deceased was fully insured at the time of death.

In some cases, an ex-spouse may be eligible to receive the benefits, even if the marriage was shorter than 10 years. Exceptions are sometimes made if the divorced dependent ex-spouse is caring for a child of the deceased who is under 16 years of age or disabled. To qualify to receive the benefits, the ex-dependent spouse must not have remarried and not be entitled to the same or higher amount of benefits of their own. The will be eligible as long as the child is under 16 or disabled.

There is no limit on how many ex-dependent spouses may receive Social Security benefits from a deceased ex-spouse. The rate is not reduced according to the number of ex-dependent spouses who collect benefits.

Applying for Social Security Benefits

Eligible ex-dependent spouses do not automatically begin receiving Social Security. They must file an application with the Social Security Administration. This can be done in-person at a local SSA office, at or by calling 800-772-1213.

After applying, the spouse will be required to provide an original birth certificate, Social Security card, marriage license and divorce decree to the SSA. If the ex-spouse is deceased, a copy of the death certificate must also be provided.