Social Security Strategies for Divorced Couples

You may be able to claim a benefit based on your ex-spouse's earnings.

Lots of things are lost when you get divorced: a shared home, mutual friends, old wedding photos. But here's something that may not disappear: your ability to base Social Security benefits on your spouse's earnings record. Or in this instance, your ex-spouse's earnings record. If you left the workforce to care for children or aging parents, or simply earned a lot less than your former spouse, this often overlooked Social Security provision could dramatically bump up your benefits.

In order to claim either spousal or survivor benefits, you must have been married for at least 10 years and not be entitled to a higher benefit based on your own record. In addition, you must be at least 62 and unmarried. You'll lose the spousal benefit if you remarry, although you can reapply if you get divorced again or your second spouse dies.

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Sandra Block
Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Block joined Kiplinger in June 2012 from USA Today, where she was a reporter and personal finance columnist for more than 15 years. Prior to that, she worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. In 1993, she was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in economics and business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has a BA in communications from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.