Demystifying Divorced-Spouse Benefits

Lauren Smith |

Navigating the complexities of Social Security benefits can be challenging, especially when it comes to divorced-spouse benefits. Recent discussions have sparked curiosity and confusion around the eligibility criteria for such benefits based on an ex-spouse's earnings record. In this blog post, I'll address some common questions and clarify the key aspects to help divorced women make more informed decisions.

Understanding Divorced-Spouse Benefit Eligibility
One question I often encounter is whether a divorced individual is entitled to receive benefits based on their ex-spouse's earnings record. Let's take a look at a sample scenario to break down the misconceptions and provide clarity.

Sample Scenario:
A female client, aged 59, currently working with a Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) of $2,500, has been divorced for over 10 years. Her ex will turn 60 later this year, with a PIA of $2,500 as well. The client has heard that she could receive benefits, continue working, and delay her own benefit until Full Retirement Age (FRA).


  • PIA (Primary Insurance Amount) Comparison: As her PIA exceeds 50% of her ex-spouse's PIA, she will not be entitled to a divorced-spouse benefit. This criterion is crucial for eligibility.
  • Earnings Test: Even if eligible, benefits received before Full Retirement Age are subject to the earnings test. Earning over the threshold ($21,240 in 2023) can result in withholding $1 in benefits for every $2 earned above the limit.
  • Deemed Filing Rules: Due to deemed filing rules, a person filing for benefits will be paid their own retirement benefit first. It's no longer possible to receive a spousal benefit while delaying personal benefits, especially if filing before Full Retirement Age.

Dispelling Common Misinformation:
The wave of misinformation regarding divorced-spouse benefits is prevalent, particularly among divorced individuals still working with high PIAs. To make sure you’re not relying on misinformation, keep these things in mind:

  • Check Your PIA: If your PIA (Primary Insurance Amount) exceeds 50% of your ex-spouse’s, you may not be entitled to a divorced-spouse benefit.
  • Survivor Benefits: Even if ineligible for a divorced-spouse benefit due to a high PIA, you may be entitled to a divorced-spouse survivor benefit if your ex-spouse passes away.
  • Notification Responsibilities: In the absence of a divorced-spouse benefit, the Social Security Administration (SSA) won't notify you upon the ex-spouse's death. It becomes your own responsibility to proactively apply for the survivor benefit.

Additional Facts To Keep In Mind:

  • To qualify, a person must be finally divorced, have been married for over 10 years, be currently unmarried, and be at least age 62.
  • A divorced person can choose the higher of two divorced-spouse benefits if they have been divorced twice.
  • If a person receiving divorced-spouse benefits remarries, benefits will stop unless the new spouse is also receiving divorced-spouse or survivor benefits.

Understanding your eligibility for divorced-spouse benefits can empower you to make informed decisions about your financial future. By comparing your Primary Insurance Amount with your ex-spouse's and navigating the ins and outs of the earnings test and deemed filing rules, you can work to maximize your Social Security benefits. Remember, while a divorced-spouse benefit might not be an option, survivor benefits and your own earnings potential could potentially hold significant value.

Please don't hesitate to reach out to me if you want to discuss your options or create a personalized plan that leverages all available resources.