Social Security Survivor Benefits for Divorced Spouses

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides surviving ex-spouses with almost the same benefits as widows.

If your ex-husband or ex-wife was disabled and receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and then died, you may be to receive benefits as a surviving ex-spouse. These benefits are available to divorced spouses who were married for at least ten years.

Eligibility for Divorced Spouse’s Survivors Benefit

The requirements and benefits for a surviving ex-spouse are very similar to those provided to surviving spouses (see our article on survivors benefits in general).

To collect Social Security benefits after your ex-spouse dies, your ex-spouse had to have been collecting SSDI (or Social Security retirement) benefits at the time of death. Also, you must still be unmarried (with some exceptions—see below), and:

  • 60 years old or older
  • disabled and between the ages of 50 and 60 (if the disability occurred within seven years of the death), or
  • caring for your ex-spouse's child under the age of 16 who is receiving Social Security benefits on your ex-spouses's record (this is called the mother’s or father’s benefit).

The Effects of Remarriage

The marital status of your ex-spouse at the time of his or her death has no effect on your ability to receive surviving ex-spouse disability or retirement benefits.

But if you remarry before the age of 60, or before the age 50 if you are disabled, you won't be able to receive benefits as a surviving ex-spouse. However, if that marriage later ends due to divorce, death, or annulment before the death of your ex-spouse, you would be able to receive surviving ex-spouse benefits as though you never remarried.

If you remarry after you reach 60 years old, or 50 years old if you are disabled, it will have no effect on your ability to receive surviving ex-spouse benefits.

If You Are Eligible for Social Security Benefits Under Your Own Record

You can't receive survivors benefits on your deceased ex-spouse's record if you are eligible to receive a Social Security benefit on your own record that would be higher than the benefits you will receive on your  ex-spouse's record. If you are eligible for benefits on your own record that are less than the benefits you would receive on your deceased ex-spouse's record, Social Security will pay you your own benefits plus the difference between the amount of your benefits and what the benefit based on your deceased ex-spouse’s benefits would be. This difference is paid with money from your deceased ex-spouse's benefit. If you were 62 or older in 2015, when you reach full retirement age, you can choose to either receive your Social Security benefit or your deceased ex-spouse’s benefit. (If you choose to delay receiving your own benefits, it may increase the amount you get paid from your own Social Security retirement benefit later on.)

Amount of Divorced Spouse’s Survivors Benefit

Below are the different payment categories for surviving ex-spouse benefits:

  • If you are at or above full retirement age, you will receive 100% of your deceased ex-spouse's SSDI or retirement benefit. 
  • If you are between the ages of 60 and full retirement age, you will receive in the range of 71.5% to 99% of your deceased ex-spouse’s SSDI or retirement benefit.
  • If you are between the ages of 50 and 59 and disabled, you will receive 71.5% of your deceased ex-spouse’s SSDI or retirement benefits. You must have become disabled before your ex-spouse died or within seven years of his or her death.
  • If you are caring for a child under the age of 16 years old who is receiving SSDI or retirement benefits on your deceased ex-spouse's record, you will receive 75% of your deceased ex-spouse’s SSDI or retirement benefit, subject to the maximum family benefit.

Note that if you work while receiving a survivor's benefit, your benefit may be reduced, depending on your age and the amount of money you earn. For more information, see our article on how working affects survivors benefits.

The Effect of SSDI Payments to the Surviving Ex-Spouse on Other Survivors

If, as a surviving ex-spouse, you receive benefits based on your ex-spouse's earnings record by meeting either the age or age and disability requirement, the benefit you receive will have no effect on the amount that other survivors will receive. In other words, it doesn't count toward the maximum family benefit. But if you are receiving a surviving ex-spouse benefit based on the fact that you are caring for a child under 16 years old who is also receiving Social Security benefits based on your deceased ex-spouse's record, the amount you receive will count towards the total family limit. (This means that the percentage you receive may decrease the percentage of benefits that other survivors can receive.) 

If you are divorced and your ex-spouse is still alive, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits if you are 62 or older. For more information, see our article on Social Security dependents benefits.

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