Since Social Security benefits can make a big difference in your cash flow and income taxes in retirement, it is worthwhile to understand how this important benefit works. Follow this article to find out how much social security does an ex spouse get?

Social Security is the term used for the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program in the United States, which is run by the Social Security Administration (SSA), a federal agency. Though it is best known for retirement benefits, it also provides survivor benefits and income for workers who become disabled.

Social Security is an insurance program. Workers pay into the program, typically through payroll withholding where they work. Self-employed workers pay Social Security taxes when they file their federal tax returns. Workers can earn up to four credits each year. In 2022, for every $1,510 earned, one credit is granted until $6,040, or four credits, has been achieved. In 2023, it will be $1,640 to $6,560.

That money goes into two Social Security trust funds, the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI) for retirees and the Disability Insurance Trust Fund for disability beneficiaries where it is used to pay benefits to people currently eligible for them. The money that is not spent remains in the trust funds. To learn more about social security, its benefits, and how much social security does an ex spouse get, follow this article.

What is social security?

Social security may be defined  as any programme of social protection established by legislation, or any  other mandatory arrangement, that provides individuals with a degree of  income security when faced with the contingencies of old age, survivorship, incapacity, disability, unemployment or rearing children.  It may also offer access to curative or preventive medical care.

As  defined by the International Social Security Association, social  security can include social insurance programmes, social assistance  programmes, universal programmes, mutual benefit schemes, national  provident funds, and other arrangements including market-oriented  approaches that, in accordance with national law or practice, form part  of a country’s social security system.

Social Security is an insurance program. Workers pay into the program, typically through payroll withholding where they work. Self-employed workers pay Social Security taxes when they file their federal tax returns. A board of trustees oversees the financial operation of the two Social Security trust funds. Four of the six members are the secretaries of the departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services, and the Commissioner of Social Security. The remaining two members are public representatives appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

What are the benefits of social security?

Social Security provides a foundation of income on which workers can build to plan for their retirement. It also provides valuable social insurance protection to workers who become disabled and to families whose breadwinner dies. Following are some of the points that shows why having a social security is important:

  • More than just a retirement plan
  • It provides a progressive benefit that increases the cost of living
  • Foundation of retirement protection
  • Benefits are modest
  • Children’s stake in social security
  • Lifts older adults above the poverty line
  • Source of income for older adults
  • Important for people of color
  • Beneficial for women

More than just a retirement plan:

Over 65 million people, or more than 1 in every 6 U.S. residents, collected Social Security benefits in January 2022. While older adults make up about 4 in 5 beneficiaries, another one-fifth of beneficiaries received Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or were young survivors of deceased workers. In addition to Social Security’s retirement benefits, workers earn life insurance and SSDI protection by making Social Security payroll tax contributions.

It provides a progressive benefit that increases the cost of living:

Social Security benefits are based on the earnings on which people pay Social Security payroll taxes. The higher their earnings (up to a maximum taxable amount, $147,000 in 2022), the higher their benefit.

Social Security benefits are progressive: they represent a higher proportion of a worker’s previous earnings for workers at lower earnings levels. For example, benefits for a low earner (with 45 percent of the average wage) retiring at age 65 in 2021 replace about half of their prior earnings. But benefits for a high earner (with 160 percent of the average wage) replace about 30 percent of prior earnings, though they are larger in dollar terms than those for the low-wage worker.

Many employers have shifted from offering traditional defined-benefit pension plans, which guarantee a certain benefit level upon retirement, toward defined-contribution plans (such as 401(k)s), which pay a benefit based on a worker’s contributions and the rate of return they earn. Social Security, therefore, will be most workers’ only source of guaranteed retirement income that is not subject to investment risk or financial market fluctuations.

Once someone starts receiving Social Security, their benefits increase to keep pace with inflation, helping to ensure that people do not fall into poverty as they age. In contrast, most private pensions and annuities are not adjusted (or are only partly adjusted) for inflation.

Foundation of retirement protection:

Almost all workers participate in Social Security by making payroll tax contributions, and almost all older adults receive Social Security benefits. In fact, 97 percent of older adults (aged 60 to 89) either receive Social Security or will receive it, according to Social Security Administration estimates.

The near universality of Social Security brings many important advantages. It provides a foundation of retirement protection for people at all earnings levels. It encourages private pensions and personal saving because it isn’t means-tested — it doesn’t reduce or deny benefits to people whose income or assets exceed a certain level. Social Security provides a higher annual payout than private retirement annuities per dollar contributed because its risk pool is not limited to those who expect to live a long time, no funds leak out in lump-sum payments or bequests, and its administrative costs are much lower.

Universal participation and the absence of means-testing make Social Security very efficient to administer. Administrative costs amount to only 0.6 percent of annual benefits, far below the percentages for private retirement annuities. Means-testing Social Security would impose significant reporting and processing burdens on both recipients and administrators, undercutting many of those advantages while yielding little savings.

Finally, Social Security’s universal nature ensures its continued popular and political support. Large majorities of Americans say they don’t mind paying for Social Security because they value it for themselves, their families, and millions of others who rely on it.

Benefits are modest:

Social Security benefits are much more modest than many people realize; the average Social Security retirement benefit in January 2022 was about $1,614 per month, or about $19,370 per year. (The average disabled worker and aged widow received slightly less.) For someone who worked all of their adult life at average earnings and retires at age 65 in 2022, Social Security benefits replace about 37 percent of past earnings. Social Security’s “replacement rate” fell as the program’s full retirement age gradually rose from 65 in 2000 to 67 in 2022.

Social Security benefits are also modest by international standards. The U.S. ranks just outside the bottom third of developed countries in the percentage of an average worker’s earnings replaced by the public pension system.

Children’s stake in social security:

Social Security is important for children and their families as well as for older adults. Over 6.5 million children under age 18 lived in families who received income from Social Security in 2019. That number included nearly 2.8 million children who received their benefits as dependents of retired, disabled, or deceased workers, as well as others who lived with parents or relatives who received Social Security benefits. Social Security lifted 1.1 million children above the poverty line in 2020, as the chart shows.

Lifts older adults above the poverty line:

Without Social Security benefits, about 4 in 10 adults aged 65 and older would have incomes below the poverty line, all else being equal, according to official estimates based on the 2021 Current Population Survey. Social Security benefits lift more than 16 million older adults above the poverty line, these estimates show.

An important study on retirement income from the U.S. Census Bureau that matches Census estimates to administrative data suggests that the official estimates overstate older people’s reliance on Social Security. The study finds that in 2012, 3 in 10 older adults would have been poor without Social Security, and that the program lifted more than 10 million older adults above the poverty line. No matter how it is measured, it’s clear that Social Security lifts millions of older adults above the poverty line and dramatically reduces their poverty rate.

Source of income for older adults:

Social Security provides the majority of income to most older adults. For about half of this group, it provides at least 50 percent of their income, and for about 1 in 4 older adults, it provides at least 90 percent of their income, according to multiple surveys and the Census Bureau study. Most retirees have modest incomes, save for some at the top of the income spectrum. Most low-income older Americans have very little pension income, if any, according to the U.S.

Census Bureau study. Among retiree households in the bottom third of the income distribution, most received no pension income. About 1 in 4 of these households lived on less than $20,000 in 2015, and about half lived on $50,000 or less, according to an Social Security Administration study that also matches survey and administrative data.

Important for people of color:

Social Security is a particularly important source of income for groups with low earnings and less opportunity to save and earn pensions, including Black and Latino workers and their families, who face higher poverty rates during their working lives and in old age. The poverty rate among Black and Latino older adults is roughly 2.5 times as high as for white seniors.

There is a significant racial retirement wealth gap, leading older adults of color to face more retirement insecurity than their white counterparts. Black and Latino workers are less likely to be offered workplace retirement plans, and they are likelier to work in low-wage jobs with little margin for savings. Social Security helps reduce the economic disparities between older white adults and older adults of color.

Beneficial for women:

Social Security is especially important for women, because they tend to earn less than men, take more time out of the paid workforce, live longer, accumulate less savings, and receive smaller pensions. Women represent more than half of Social Security beneficiaries in their 60s and 7 in 10 beneficiaries in their 90s. In addition, women make up 96 percent of Social Security survivor beneficiaries.

Women benefit disproportionately from the program’s inflation-protected benefits (because they tend to live longer than men), its progressive formula for computing benefits (because they tend to have lower earnings), and its benefits for spouses and survivors.

What are the types of social security benefits?

There are four basic types of benefits based on the person receiving them. The types are:

  • Retirement
  • Disability
  • Survivor
  • Supplemental benefits


Retirement benefits are what typically come to mind when most people think of Social Security. Such benefits are available for people 62 or older who have worked at least 10 years. Your benefit amount will vary based on your pre-retirement salary as well as the age at which you begin collecting benefits. While it is not meant to be your only source of income, it can help you avoid debt during your retirement years. Additionally, your spouse or divorced spouse may be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits even if he or she has not paid into the program.


Disability benefits support people who cannot work because of disabilities. As with retirement benefits, you need to have worked a certain number of years to be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The amount of work you need depends on your age, and your monthly benefit amount depends on your pre-disability salary. SSDI benefits may also be available for your spouse or divorced spouse.


Survivors benefits can help bridge financial gaps for survivors of workers and retirees. Eligible recipients typically include help for widows and widowers, divorced spouses and children. The 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Obergefell v. Hodges) gave same-sex couples access to Social Security benefits.

The level of benefits depends on a number of factors, including the worker’s age at death, the worker’s salary, the survivors’ ages and the survivors’ relation to the deceased. There also is a “death benefit” for survivors that is a one-time payment of $255 that goes to the spouse or children of a deceased worker.

Supplemental benefits:

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) helps people who are unable to earn sufficient wages on their own. It is available to adults with disabilities, children with disabilities and people 65 or older. Individuals with enough work history may be eligible to receive SSI in addition to disability or retirement benefits. The amount individuals receive varies based on their other sources of income and where they live.

What are the pros of social security?

Social Security is a pay-as-you-go U.S. program that was signed into law on August 14, 1935. The goal of the program was to provide benefits to retirees and those who were unemployed at the time. A lump-sum benefit would also be paid upon death to help offset some of an individual’s final costs. All programs like this have certain advantages and disadvantages to examine. Here are the key pros of Social Security:

  • It provides a monthly income to those who need it.
  • It offers a scalable set of benefits
  • It offers minimums for qualified individuals
  • It allows spouses to collect benefits
  • It provides tax free benefits to many people
  • You can work even after your retirement
  • It is a guaranteed source of income

It provides a monthly income to those who need it:

Under the current structure of Social Security, about 85% of the funds that are paid into the program are distributed to retirees or qualifying individuals. That ensures those who may need an income during their retirement years are able to have one. Although Social Security is not a complete income replacement for most retirees, it does provide supplemental income that can help individuals, couples, and families maintain their lifestyle.

It offers a scalable set of benefits:

With Social Security, you are permitted to retire and claim benefits as early as age 62. That does mean you would receive a smaller monthly payment than someone who waits until the full retirement age to collect benefits. If you wait until you turn age 70, then you will maximize the benefits you’re able to receive. That structure allows for each person or household to choose a structure that works best for them.

It offers minimums for qualified individuals:

Since 1973, the Social Security Administration has used an alternative method of calculating benefits for low-income workers based on their years of coverage. In 2018, 11 years of coverage offered a special minimum primary insurance amount of just $40.80. With 30 years of coverage, however, the special minimum was $848.80.

It allows spouses to collect benefits:

Although Social Security was designed as a program to reward those in the workforce with a guaranteed income at retirement or for certain disabilities, non-working spouses are also eligible to collect benefits. Under the current rules at the time of writing, a non-working spouse is entitled to an amount that is equivalent to 50% of their working spouse’s benefit. The only stipulation is that the couple must be married for a minimum of 12 months before submitting the application.

It provides tax free benefit to many people:

No one in the United States pays federal income tax on more than 85% of their Social Security benefits based on current rules. If you file a joint return and your combined income is at least $32,000, then up to 50% of your benefits may be subject to income tax. If you earn more than $44,000, then up to 85% of the benefits could be taxable.

You can work even after your retirement:

If you decide to keep working during your retirement, then you can potentially earn a larger benefit over time. That is because you’ll keep earning credits, if needed, to your benefit. Working can also delay the need to claim Social Security, which can increase the benefit as well. Although this may mean that your Social Security benefits would be taxed under this circumstance, it is a way to ensure you have enough income each month.

It is a guaranteed source of income:

Once your application for Social Security is approved, you are guaranteed a monthly benefit for the rest of your life. Even if you claim an early retirement, you’ll still receive that guaranteed check each month. That means you will have a definite income you can rely upon to meet your daily living needs each month. You can even invest this money if you choose.

What are the cons of social security?

All programs like this have certain advantages and disadvantages to examine. Here are the key cons of Social Security:

  • It is not fully funded
  • Not available for everyone
  • It rewards high income earners
  • Difficult to use
  • It may not give you the chance to break
  • It can change your retirement program
  • Differences in benefits

It is not fully funded:

By 2028, the number of people claiming benefits through Social Security are expected to exceed the number of people paying into it. Some estimates have this event occurring as early as 2022. Although a good portion of the national debt in the U.S. is to the Social Security program through Treasury securities, redeeming those securities requires funds. That may result in higher tax rates, a larger federal deficit, or other financial consequences.

Not available for everyone:

Under the current system of Social Security, individuals must earn credits to qualify for benefits. If you do not earn a minimum of 40 credits, then you are not entitled to a retirement benefit through the program. If this disadvantage applies to you, the Social Security Administration advises you to consider working more to earn more credits that can be applied to your personal account. To earn credits, under 2018 rules, you must earn a minimum of $5,280 over a 12-month period for the maximum 4 credits allowed. That means it takes 10 years to qualify for the minimum number of credits.

It rewards high income earners:

Social Security calculates your monthly benefit based on the average income you’ve reported over your lifetime. Once you’ve reached the minimum number of credits, additional credits have no bearing on the amount of your benefit. At the time of writing, the equation to calculate your monthly benefit from your monthly average wage is this:

90% of the first $896, then 32% of the amount between $897 and $5,399, then 15% of the amount above $5,399. Most Americans do not earn enough to reach the 15% calculation. That means someone who earned an average of $4,000 per month receives a benefit of less than $1,800.

Difficult to use:

As people age, the number of health issues they face continues to increase. If you’re trying to maximize your benefits by delaying a claim until the age of 70, then you may not be able to travel like you want or enjoy the other perks of retirement. Sometimes, it is better to take the benefits that are available, even if they are lower, to enjoy it while you can. Even then, you may face a major health issue later on in life where a larger benefit would be helpful, so there are big risks to consider on both sides of the equation.

It may not give you the chance to break:

At the time of writing, it takes more than 10 years to make up for the 8 years of benefits lost if you make a Social Security claim at age 70 instead of age 62. That means you’d need to live longer than the average lifespan in the United States to break even financially from the decision to claim benefits. You could invest your early retirement benefits instead, although that may cause tax complications that could be costly as well.

It can change your retirement program:

People are living longer than they were in 1935 when this program was first started. For those born between 1943-1954, their full retirement age in the program is 66. The full retirement age for those born in 1937 or earlier is 65. For everyone born 1960 or later, the full retirement age is 67. The retirement age of the program keeps going up, so those who were born in 1980 or later may face a requirement of age 68 or older to make a “standard” claim for benefits, which would be 3 full years later than previous generations.

Differences in benefits:

Although you can make a claim at age 62 for Social Security benefits, you’ll receive a 25% reduction in the overall benefit amount you’d receive if you waited until your full retirement age. Any reductions in the benefit amount are permanent. If you lived to the age of 85 and made an early claim, you’d actually receive less in benefit dollars than if you’d waited until your normal retirement age.

The pros and cons of Social Security are important to examine at any age because it is an essential component of a retirement plant. If you have an idea of how much your benefit will be, then you’ll know how much you will need to save to meet your retirement goals. Keep in mind that the benefits awarded, and even the structure of the program, are subject to change. That means a periodic review of these pros and cons should occur at least once per year.

Who is not eligible to get social security?

What follows are the eight most common categories of workers who lack Social Security eligibility and thus are not entitled to benefits.

  • Workers with few social security credits
  • Workers who die before 62
  • Certain divorced spouses
  • Workers who retire in foreign countries
  • Certain noncitizens
  • Certain government and railroad employees

Workers with few social security credits:

If you earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, then you’ll need 208.28 hours of work to receive one credit toward Social Security. By working just 17 hours a week for 50 weeks at this wage (allowing yourself a two-week vacation), you can earn the maximum credits per year. That means even those who work part-time so they can attend school or care for a child—or those who work part-time because they cannot find full-time work—can amass Social Security credits without too much trouble.

Earned credits are accrued over a person’s lifetime and never expire, so anyone who has left the workforce with close to 40 credits might consider going back and doing the minimum additional work they need to qualify. You can check the number of credits you have so far by opening a Social Security account on the Social Security website and downloading your Social Security statement.

Workers who die before 62:

The minimum age to start claiming Social Security retirement benefits is 62. If someone dies prematurely, then dependent children and spouses may be entitled to survivor benefits. At age 60, for example, widows and widowers can begin receiving Social Security benefits based on their deceased spouse’s earnings record (disabled spouses can start at age 50). Terminally ill patients can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which means they will still receive some benefit from their contributions to the system.

Certain divorced spouses:

Divorced people can be entitled to collect Social Security benefits based on the earnings of an ex-spouse. Often these are full-time homemakers or stay-at-home parents who didn’t work. To get the benefits, they must be single, 62 or older, and have earned less in benefits based on their own work record than that of their ex. If the marriage lasted for fewer than 10 years, they are not eligible to claim any spousal benefits.

Workers who retire in foreign countries:

U.S. citizens who travel to—or live in—most foreign countries after they retire usually can receive Social Security benefits. However, if that country is Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan, then the government will not send them Social Security payments.

Exceptions may be available in all of these countries except Cuba and North Korea.  The government’s Payments Abroad Screening Tool is an easy way to check if you will be able to continue receiving Social Security benefits while living abroad or if restrictions will apply.

Certain noncitizens:

Certain noncitizens who have earned 40 Social Security work credits in the United States are eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  Immigrants who do not have enough U.S. credits but who come from one of the 30 countries with whom the United States has Social Security agreements, also known as “totalization agreements,” may qualify to receive prorated benefits.

Certain government and railroad employees:

There are some jobs that don’t pay into Social Security. Federal government employees hired before 1984 are included in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), which provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits. These workers did not have Social Security taxes deducted from their paychecks and thus are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits.

They may still qualify if they have earned benefits through another job or a spouse. However, in these cases, CSRS pension payments may reduce Social Security payouts. Government workers who are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), which replaced CSRS, are eligible for Social Security benefits.

Some railroad employees are not covered by Social Security. Workers with at least 10 years of service in the railroad industry (or at least five years after 1995) have their retirement benefits covered through the Railroad Retirement Board. The RRB is an independent federal agency that administers various employment benefits for railroad industry employees and their families.

How much social security does an ex spouse get?

You are eligible to collect spousal benefits on a living former wife’s or husband’s earnings record as long as:

  • The marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • You have not remarried.
  • Your age is more than 62.
  • Your ex spouse is entitled to collect social security retirement or disability benefits.

Your former spouse doesn’t have to be collecting his or her retirement benefits yet for you to claim ex-spousal benefits. However, if this is the case, the divorce must be at least two years old. (There is no such requirement if your ex is already receiving benefits.)

The most you can collect in divorced-spouse benefits is 50 percent of your former mate’s primary insurance amount — the monthly payment he or she is entitled to at full retirement age, which is 66 and 4 months for people born in 1956 and is rising incrementally to 67 over the next several years.

You can get that maximum if you file for ex-spouse benefits when you reach full retirement age. If you claim earlier, the benefit amount is reduced, to as low as 32.5 percent of your ex’s full benefit if you file at 62. The earliest you can apply for divorced-spouse benefits is three months before your 62nd birthday. Keep in mind:

  • If you are already receiving retirement benefits on your own work record, you can also claim any ex-spousal benefits you are eligible for, but Social Security will not pay you both combined. You’ll receive whichever amount is higher and no more.
  • Any benefits you receive as a divorced spouse do not affect Social Security benefits paid to your ex, or to their current spouse if they have remarried.
  • If your ex-spouse is deceased, you may be entitled to survivor benefits, under different eligibility rules.

How is social security affected if your ex spouse dies?

The scenario changes if your ex-spouse has passed away. If you meet specific conditions, you can apply for survivor benefits, which could pay a higher rate. You could receive up to 100% of a late ex-spouse’s payment if you start benefits at your full retirement age. Keep in mind that the full retirement age for survivors isn’t necessarily the same age that applies for retirement benefits.

You may be able to apply for survivor benefits if you’ve been collecting spousal benefits or if you’ve been drawing retirement benefits from your own work record. To qualify for surviving divorced spouse benefits, you must meet these conditions:

  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • You are not married, or you remarried after you turned 60 (or 50 if you have a disability).
  • You are at least 60 years old (or 50 if you have a disability).
  • If you’re entitled to benefits on your own work record, the amount must be less than you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s record.
  • If you are caring for a child of your former spouse who is under 16 or is disabled and entitled to benefits, age and length-of-marriage requirements don’t apply.

Again, there’s no double dipping with Social Security. If you were collecting your own benefit prior to your ex passing away, you can still apply for survivor benefits. However, you may only collect the higher of the two benefits.

An unusual twist: the benefits you receive on your deceased ex-spouse’s record will not affect the benefit for other survivors getting benefits on their record. So, if your ex was remarried at the time of their death, their surviving spouse can also claim a survivor benefit. There is no limit to how many people can collect on one work record!

In most cases, you will not need to notify SSA of the death. That is usually handled by the funeral home. If you already receive benefits as an ex-spouse, your benefit will automatically be changed to the survivors benefits after the SSA receives the report of death.

Unfortunately, a surviving divorced spouse who was not already receiving spousal benefits cannot apply online to initiate survivor benefits. You should contact the Social Security Administration


The social importance of social security systems for society is now widely accepted. However, there is less unanimity regarding the economic importance of social security systems. Regardless, that social security systems should be understood as a productive factor in economic development is a view that is gaining ground.

Social Security may be a significant source of income to many divorced individuals in retirement. When planning for your retirement years, it’s important to understand the variables involved and what you may expect to receive.

It is also important to analyze the facts and then set a strategy to get the maximum benefit given your individual situation. Even if you think your own benefit will be the higher amount, it is worth it to double check with the SSA especially if you learn that your ex-spouse has passed away, making you eligible for survivor benefits rather than just spousal.


Nabeel Ahmad is the founder and editor-in-chief of Lone Mind. Apart from Lone Mind, he is a serial entrepreneur, and has founded multiple successful companies in different industries.

Write A Comment