If your ex-husband or ex-wife was disabled and receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits before they died, you might be to receive Social Security survivors benefits as an ex-spouse. Survivors benefits for divorced spouses can provide an important source of income as you get older.
The requirements and benefits for a surviving ex-spouse are similar to those provided to surviving spouses (see our article on survivors benefits in general).
First, to collect Social Security survivors benefits after your ex-spouse dies, your ex-spouse had to have been collecting SSDI or Social Security retirement benefits at the time of their death.
Second, survivors benefits are only available to divorced spouses who were married for at least ten years.
Third, you must remain unmarried (with some exceptions—see below).
Fourth, you must be over a certain age or have children under a certain age. Specifically, you have to be:
Below are the different payment categories for surviving ex-spouse benefits:
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.
Your ex-spouse's family won't be notified when you apply for survivors benefits.
If, as a surviving ex-spouse, you receive benefits based on your ex-spouse's earnings record because you're 60 or older (or disabled and 50 or older), your survivors benefit will have no effect on the amount that other survivors will receive. In other words, it doesn't count toward the maximum family benefit amount.
But it's different if you're 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 on your deceased ex-spouse's record. In that case, the amount of survivors benefits you receive will count towards the total family limit. (This means that the percentage you receive might decrease the percentage of benefits that the children can receive.)
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—unless that marriage later ends before the death of your ex-spouse. The marriage might end due to divorce, death, or annulment. 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, your ability to receive surviving ex-spouse benefits won't be affected at all.
Whether or not your ex-spouse is married to someone else at the time of his or her death has no effect on your ability to receive surviving ex-spouse disability or retirement benefits.
You can't receive survivors benefits on your deceased ex-spouse's record if you're eligible to receive a Social Security benefit on your own earnings record that would be higher than the survivors benefits you would receive on your ex-spouse's record.
If you're eligible for benefits on your own record that are less than the survivors benefits you would receive on your deceased ex-spouse's record, it gets complicated. 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 choose to delay receiving your own benefits, it may increase the amount you get paid from your own Social Security retirement benefit later on.
You can apply for ex-spouse survivor benefits by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. or by going to your local Social Security office in person.
You will need proof of your ex-husband or ex-wife's death, a copy of your final divorce decree, and your marriage certificate. You can find a list of all documents you'll need and all questions you need to answer on Social Security's webpage for Surviving Divorced Spouse's Benefits.
If you're divorced and your ex-wife or ex-husband is still alive, you may be eligible for Social Security ex-spouse benefits if you're 62 or older. For more information, see our article on Social Security dependents benefits.
Updated May 4, 2022