Divorce and Social Security Benefits for Women: Know Your Options

Kimberly Foss, CFP®, CPWA®

Sr. Wealth Advisor


Are you a woman considering “gray divorce”? Learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits with tips on timing and options.

Divorce and Social Security Benefits for Women Image

While the overall divorce rate may be trending downward in the U.S., it is decidedly on the rise among marriages lasting 30 years or more.1 In fact, baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are currently leading the “gray divorce” trend. Interestingly, 66% of these divorces are initiated by women, though they often may face additional challenges including the loss of significant financial resources.2

It doesn’t have to be this way. The fact that so many women who decide to end later-in-life marriages suffer financially is indicative of the need for wealth advice tailored to their specific needs.

Divorced spouse Social Security benefits: How much and how to qualify

One of the important inflection points if you’re contemplating – or going through – gray divorce involves options and timing around Social Security benefits. These decisions can often seem confusing if you are eligible to claim benefits in more than one way (which is often the case for older divorced or divorcing women). So, let’s unpack some key factors concerning Social Security that may come into play.

According to the Social Security Administration, a divorced woman is eligible to claim spousal benefits (based on the work record of her ex-partner) if:

  • The marriage lasted 10 years or more.
  • She has not remarried.
  • The spousal benefit is greater than her own benefit.
  • She is at least 62 years old and eligible for early retirement under Social Security rules.

It’s important to keep in mind that while a person is eligible to file for Social Security benefits as early as age 62, the benefit will be reduced from what would be available at Full Retirement Age (FRA) — age 65 for those born in 1937 or earlier, increasing gradually to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later. In fact, waiting until FRA to file may increase the monthly benefit by as much as 30%, as compared with the benefit available at early retirement. In addition, if you receive benefits before the FRA, the benefit is reduced permanently and will not automatically increase at FRA.

Next, it matters how long you’ve been divorced. If you are divorced two years or less, your ex-spouse must be receiving their Social Security benefit for you to qualify and receive divorced-spouse benefits. If you are divorced for more than two years, you are considered “independently entitled” and eligible to file for benefits if your ex-spouse is also eligible to file but has not done so.3

Your maximum Social Security divorced spouse benefit is 50% of your ex-partner’s full amount. And even if you wait until after FRA, your benefits won’t increase. The wage earner may benefit from delaying benefits until age 70, but the spouse applying for benefits won’t.4

Does my ex-spouse need to know?

It’s important to note that divorced-spouse benefits have no bearing on an ex’s Social Security. Your former spouse will collect the retirement benefit they’re entitled to receive, based on their own work and earnings history. Additionally, the Social Security Administration will not notify your former spouse if you apply for benefits on their record. The agency can disclose whether someone is drawing benefits on their record, and the full benefit amount, but it will not reveal personal information. A few more things to keep in mind regarding divorced spouse benefits:

  • Generally, Social Security benefits, whether received on your own work record or as a spousal benefit, are taxed when your total income (including investments, a part-time job, and other sources) exceeds $25,000 per year. Under the current tax codes, the maximum taxable portion of your Social Security benefits won’t exceed 85%.5
  • Except in very limited situations, you lose eligibility for divorced-spouse benefits on the earnings record of a living former spouse if you remarry. However, if the later marriage ends due to divorce or annulment, you may again qualify for benefits based on either marriage.
  • Spousal benefits may also be claimed on the record of an ex-spouse who is deceased.

Understanding your financial plan and maximizing Social Security benefits are among the best things you can do to protect yourself if you are approaching the next chapter of life. Mercer Advisors specializes in helping women in transition navigate divorce with confidence, conviction, and clarity. To learn more, contact us.


1 Jayson, Sharon. “Divorce Skyrocketing among Aging Boomers.” AARP, 6 September 2023.  

2 Hall, Jessica. “Gray Divorce Is Most Often Initiated by Women – Even Though It Can Crush Their Finances.” MarketWatch, 11 September 2023.

3 Hager, Thomas. “Are You Eligible for Ex-Spousal Social Security Benefits as a Divorced Spouse?” Forbes, 12 September 2023.

4 Royal, Ph.D., James. “Social Security Spousal Benefits: Here’s What Spouses Can Get.” Bankrate, 5 September 2023.

5 Schwab.com. “Social Security Is Taxable? How to Minimize Taxes.” Schwab Brokerage, 7 February 2023.

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All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change. Some of the research and ratings shown in this presentation come from third parties that are not affiliated with Mercer Advisors. The information is believed to be accurate but is not guaranteed or warranted by Mercer Advisors.

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