Divorce and Survivors' Social Security Benefits

The Social Security system provides income to families of workers who die.  In fact, most children are eligible for benefits if a working parent dies.  Social Security provides a benefit similar to life insurance.  As you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn credits toward your Social Security benefits.

If you are the divorced spouse of a worker who dies and your  marriage lasted 10 or more years, you could get social security benefits just the same as a widow or widower. If you are caring for the deceased spouse's child who is under age 16 or disabled who is getting benefits on the record of your former spouse, you would not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule. The child must be your former spouse's natural or legally adopted child. However, if you qualify because you have the worker's child in your care, your benefit will affect the amount of the benefits of others on the worker's record.

Benefits paid to you as a surviving divorced spouse who meets the age or disability requirement as a widow or widower won't affect the benefit rates for other survivors getting benefits on the worker's record.  There is a limit, however, on the amount of benefits that the social security administration will pay to family members each month.  

In addition,  you may remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled) without the marriage affecting your eligibility for survivors benefits. When you reach age 62, then you may get benefits on your new spouse's work record, if those benefits are greater.  The benefit amount is based upon the earnings of the person who died.  The more the deceased worker paid into Social Security, the greater the benefits will be.  

In most cases, the deceased worker's benefits are as follows:

  • A widow or widower, at full retirement age or older, generally gets 100 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount;

  • A widow or widower, age 60 or older, but under full retirement age, gets about 70-99 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount; or

  • A widow or widower, any age, with a child younger than age 16, gets 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount;

  • A child gets 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.

If you are not receiving Social Security benefits, then as a survivor you should immediately apply for survivor benefits, because in some cases, the government will pay benefits from them time you apply and not from the time when the worker died.  If you are receiving benefits as a wife or husband based on your spouse's work, the government will change your payments to survivor's benefits when you report your death to us.

Gene M. Bowman, Attorney & CPA