How Does Divorce Affect Social Security Survivors Benefits?

One of the most important parts of financial security for retired and widowed individuals is Social Security. This is especially important for women, since women characteristically are younger than their spouses but outlive them.

Social Security Survivors Benefits

One of the lesser-discussed topics of Social Security is the survivors benefits paid to spouses, children, and occasionally parents of a deceased worker. The National Academy of Social Insurance estimates that 7.5 million individuals over the age of 60 receives SS benefits based on the work record of a deceased spouse, with about 3.7 million of them widowed spouses. As long as the deceased worker has collected enough credits to receive Social Security, survivor’s benefits are available.

In some cases, even if you were divorced from your spouse, it’s still possible to collect Social Security survivor’s benefits from your former spouse.

Criteria For Survivors Benefits

For a widowed spouse to collect survivor’s benefits, the following conditions must apply:

  • The deceased must be collecting Social Security at the time of death
  • You must be over the age of 60 (or 50 if you are disabled); you’ll receive anywhere from 71.5% to 100% of the deceased’s monthly amount depending on your age, or
    • There is no age limit if you are caring for a child under 16 or a disabled child of the deceased, or
  • You must be a child of the deceased, under 18 or 19 and 2 months if still in high school, or
    • You have a disability that began before the age of 22
    • You’re a grandchild or stepchild of the deceased
  • Parents of the deceased, aged 62 or older, who were financially dependent on the deceased. One parent will receive 82.5% of the deceased’s benefit for one parent, two will receive 75% each.

Additionally, there is a one-time death benefit of $255 available in a lump sum payment for the widowed spouse, minor children, or an adult child who is disabled. There are specific conditions that apply to this separate death benefit as well.

What If You’re Divorced?

Surprisingly, you can still apply for and collect these benefits from your former spouse, if:

  • Your former spouse was collecting SSDI or Social Security retirement at the time of death
  • Your marriage to the worker lasted 10 or more years
  • You did not remarry before the age of 60, or age 50 if you are disabled, if the disability happened within 7 years of the worker’s death
  • You are raising the child of children of your former spouse that are under the age of 16

As a divorced spouse:

  • You’ll receive 100% of your deceased ex-spouse’s retirement or SSDI benefit if you are of full retirement age.
  • You’ll receive between 71.5% and 99% of your deceased ex-spouse’s retirement or SSDI benefit if you are between 60 and full retirement age.
  • You’ll receive 71.5% of your deceased ex-spouse’s retirement or SSDI benefit if you are between 50 and 59 and disabled, and your disability happened before your former spouse died, or within 7 years of their death.

You can still apply for the one-time death benefit if the same conditions apply.

Divorced males as well as females can collect survivor’s benefits from their former spouses. However, if your own Social Security benefits are higher than the amount of your survivor’s benefit, you’ll receive that higher amount instead. Additionally, you won’t receive more than you would normally—your total monthly amount won’t exceed what you’d receive every month as an individual.


If you remarry before the age of 60 (or 50 with a disability) you will lose the survivor’s benefits from your former spouse. If your new spouse dies, you can resume receiving the survivor’s benefits from your previous spouse as you did before.

Remarriage after the age of 60 will have no effect on your survivor’s benefits, and you can continue to collect them.

Maximum Family Benefit

There is a total amount that family members—children, parents, etc.—will receive as survivors.

If you receive survivor’s benefits based on caring for a child, that will be taken from the maximum family benefit. The benefits you receive will be taken from the maximum amount, and decrease the amount of money that other family members may receive.

However, the money you receive as a divorced spouse will not affect that maximum.

Need Help With Social Security Or Disability? Get Help From Herren Law

The Herren Law Firm can help you with your application, appeals and help you through the process, and give you one less thing to worry about. Contact us today at 713-682-8194 (or use our online contact form) to schedule your free consultation. There’s no obligation, and no up-front fees.  We only collect if we win your case.

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