Can I Request Survivors Benefits After a Divorce


If you’re divorced and your ex-husband or wife dies, you may ask “Can I request survivors’ benefits after a divorce?” The answer to your question may be yes if he or she was Social Security benefits-eligible at the time of deathand your marriage lasted at least a decade. Although your Social Security-eligible spouse may have remarried after the divorce, you should be unmarried in order to qualify survivors’ benefits.

Claiming Social Security survivors’ benefits after divorce is a confusing topic for financial advisers and individuals alike. If you divorced a now-deceased husband or wife, you may be entitled to full survivor benefits (100 percent) of what he or she was entitled to receive from Social Security at the time of death.

In comparison, your spousal benefit is actually worth just half of the worker’s benefit if you collect it at Social Security Full Retirement Age (FRA). You can collect survivors’ benefits as a divorced husband or wife and, if you delay remarriage until you 60th birthday or later, you may continue to collect survivors benefits unless your new husband or wife’s benefits are higher.

Request Social Security Survivors Benefits after Divorce

In order to qualify for Social Security survivors’ benefits after divorce, he/she was either collecting Social Security retirement or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) at death. You must be at least 60 years old. If you’re disabled, you may file a claim between the age of 50 and 60 if your disability occurred during a seven-year time window. In other words, you were disabled before the age of 60 but no later than seven years after the ex-husband or wife’s death.

In some cases, you may be eligible to claim disability benefits (SSDI) on the ex-husband or wife’s Social Security work record. Social Security refers to these survivor benefits as disabled widow/widower benefits (DWB).

  • If you were disabled shortly after your former spouse’s death but you aren’t 50 years old [within the seven year-period after the death], you may not be eligible for benefits.
  • You may also receive mother/father benefits if you’re caring for a child/children you had with the now deceased ex-husband or wife.
  • Remarriage may affect your survivors’ benefits after a divorce.

Remarriage and Social Security Survivors Benefits after Divorce

Although your now-deceased ex-husband or wife’s decision to remarry has absolutely no effect on your ability to successfully claim Social Security survivors’ benefits, your decision to remarry does.

  • If you remarry before age 60 (or before you turn 50 if disabled), you can’t receive Social Security survivors’ benefits as a surviving former husband or wife of the deceased.
  • However, if you remarry and the union ends in an annulment, divorce, or death of the new spouse, Social Security views the marriage as a non-event. You may claim surviving divorced spouse benefits!
  • The decision to remarry after you turn 60 has no impact on your survivors’ benefits as a divorced ex-husband or wife You may remarry at 50 years or older if you’re disabled. Social Security continues to pay your survivors’ benefits.

Social Security Survivors Benefits and Your Individual Social Security Benefits

If you’ve paid Social Security taxes and earned work credits over your own lifetime, you can’t claim survivors’ benefits based on your deceased former spouse’s earnings record when your own earnings record is greater than that of the deceased ex-spouse.

However, Social Security considers the difference between the benefits you can claim on an individual record and that of your deceased ex-husband or wife. You receive the difference from money earned from the former’s spouse’s Social Security benefit account.

If you’re at least 62 years old, you may elect to receive your individual Social Security benefit or that of your deceased ex-husband or wife at full retirement age (FRA) for your birth year. The decision to delay taking your own Social Security benefits until FRA or later can actually increase your monthly retirement benefits when you claim them.

Divorced Spouse Survivors Benefits

Social Security has different age-payment categories for survivor benefits after divorce, such as:

  • You’re already at Social Security full retirement age: you receive 100 percent of the deceased ex-husband or wife’s retirement or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit.
  • You’re between the age of 60 and FRA: Social Security pays between 71-1/2 percent to 99 percent of the deceased former spouse’s retirement or SSDI benefit
  • You’re between age 50 and 59, and you’re disabled: Social Security pays 71-1/2 percent of your deceased ex-husband or wife’s retirement or SSDI payments. You suffered disability before the date of death of your ex-spouse or within a seven-year period of his/her date of death.
  • You’re a divorced mother or father of the natural or adopted child shared with the deceased ex-spouse and the child is less than 16 years old (and the child receives retirement benefits or disability based on the deceased parent’s earnings): Social Security pays 75 percent of the deceased ex-husband or wife’s retirement or SSDI benefit—subject to maximum family benefit levels.
  • You continue to work while receiving benefits from your deceased husband or wife’s Social security survivors’ benefits: Social Security considers your current age and earnings to determine the benefits amount you receive.
  • Estimating your survivor benefits as a divorced ex-spouse can be complicated by other survivors.

SSDI Payments and Other Survivors

If you qualify for survivor benefits based on an ex-spouse’s Social Security work record by establishing age or disability, the benefit you claim doesn’t impact the amount other survivors, such as a second wife or children from a second marriage, receive.

However, if you’re considered a surviving former spouse and receive benefits because you care for a child less than 16 years old (and the child receives benefits based on his or her deceased parent’s work record), your benefits are counted in the <i>total family limit.</i> The percentage of benefits Social Security pays you can lower the percentage of benefits received by other survivors in this case.