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Social Security Options for Divorced Spouses

Dear Savvy Senior: As a divorced woman, am I entitled to my ex-husband’s Social Security benefits? I was married for 14 years. — Happily Divorced

Dear Divorced: You may be eligible for divorced spouses Social Security benefits if you meet certain criteria. A divorced spouse can collect a Social Security retirement benefit on an ex-spouse’s record if you are at least age 62, were married for at least 10 years, are unmarried and are not eligible for a higher benefit based on your own record.

In order to collect, your former spouse must also be at least 62 and eligible for benefits. But, he doesn’t have to be receiving them for you to collect benefits, if you’ve been divorced for at least two years. If your ex is remarried, it won’t affect your right to divorcee benefits.

Benefit amount

A divorced spouse can receive up to 50 percent of their ex’s full Social Security benefit, or less if they take benefits before their full retirement age — which is 66 if you were born between 1943 and 1954.

If you qualify for benefits based on your own work history, you’ll receive the larger of the benefits. You cannot receive benefits on both.

To find out how much your retirement benefits will be, visit And to get an estimate of your ex’s benefits, call Social Security at 800-772-1213.

Divorced survivor

If your ex-spouse dies, and you were married for 10 or more years, you become eligible for divorced survivor benefits, up to 100 percent of what your ex-spouse was due.

Survivor’s benefits are available to divorced spouses as early as age 60 (50 if you’re disabled). But, if you remarry before 60 you become ineligible unless the marriage ends. Remarrying after age 60 will not affect your eligibility.

Also note that if you are receiving divorced spouses benefits when you ex-spouse dies, you will automatically be switched over to the higher-paying survivor benefit.

Switching strategies

Being divorced also offers a switching strategy that can help boost your benefits if you were born on or before Jan. 1, 1954. If you worked and are eligible for benefits on your own earnings record, you could file a “restricted application” with Social Security at age 66 to collect a divorced spousal benefit, which is half of what your ex gets. Then, once you reach 70, you stop receiving the ex-spousal benefit and switch to your own benefit, which will be 32 percent higher than it would have been at your full retirement age.

For more information, visit or call 800-772-1213.

Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit

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