Disability Benefits for the Divorced Spouse of a Disabled Worker

If your ex-husband or ex-wife is eligible for SSDI benefits, you might also be entitled to divorced spouse’s benefits.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

If you're divorced, you might be entitled to Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits when your ex-spouse begins to collect disability benefits. You can also sometimes get a survivors benefit when your disabled ex-spouse dies. When you collect Social Security benefits based on another person's Social Security earnings record, the benefits are called "auxiliary benefits."

If you were married for at least ten years and your former spouse is now entitled to SSDI benefits as the result of a disability, you might be entitled to a monthly benefit check as well. Here's how to find out if you're eligible for auxiliary or survivors benefits, how much you can expect to get, and how to apply.

Are You Eligible for Divorced Spouse's Benefits?

If your ex-spouse became disabled, either before, during, or after the marriage, and has earned enough Social Security credits to be entitled to SSDI, as a divorced spouse, you're qualified for benefits if you fit into either of these categories:

  • You, the divorced spouse, are 62 years old or older and were married to the disabled worker for at least ten years.
  • You, the divorced spouse, care for your ex-spouse's child or children who are under the age of 16 or became disabled before the age of 22. (This is sometimes called the "mother's or father's benefit.")

If you remarry, your auxiliary benefits will end. In addition, if you become eligible to receive Social Security benefits (either retirement or disability benefits) on your own record, and the amount you're eligible for is higher than your auxiliary benefit, your auxiliary SSDI benefit will end.

What If Your Disabled Ex-Spouse Isn't Collecting Benefits?

If your disabled ex-spouse hasn't filed a disability claim for SSDI, the rules are a bit more complicated. You can still collect SSDI, but only if:

  • both you and your ex are at least 62 years old
  • you were married at least ten years, and
  • you've been divorced for at least two years (although this two-year period might be waived if the disabled spouse was eligible for disability benefits before the divorce).

To qualify, your disabled ex-spouse must be eligible for SSDI under the medical disability rules. However, in certain circumstances, your ex might not need to meet the non-medical eligibility requirements. Specifically, your ex-husband or wife might be allowed to earn more income than would normally be allowed when claiming disability benefits.

Eligibility for Divorced Spouse's Survivors Benefit

If your ex-spouse has died but was collecting (or was entitled to collect) disability benefits at death, you might be able to collect a survivors benefit. As a surviving divorced spouse, to be entitled to SSDI benefits, you must be:

  • at least 60 years old
  • at least 50 years old and disabled, or
  • eligible for the mother's or father's benefit (see above).

If you remarry before you turn 60 (before 50 if you're disabled), your Social Security auxiliary benefits will be denied or canceled. After age 60 (or age 50 if disabled), the Social Security Administration (SSA) will ignore the marriage and continue to pay SSDI benefits.

How Much SSDI Can a Divorced Spouse of a Disabled Worker Get?

A divorced spouse generally receives 50% of the disabled worker's primary insurance amount (half as much as the disabled person's monthly SSDI check). But, this amount is reduced if you haven't reached full retirement age (between 66 and 67 years old).

Also, if you're collecting a mother's or father's benefit and your disabled ex's children are collecting SSDI benefits at the same time as the divorced spouse, your benefit can be reduced. The total amount of your benefit plus the children's benefit can't be more than the maximum family benefit, which is generally 150% of your ex-spouse's monthly SSDI benefit.

Note that the benefits paid to a divorced spouse based on being over 60 or disabled aren't counted toward the maximum family benefit. They won't affect a current spouse's or child's benefits either. A divorced spouse's benefit is counted toward the maximum family benefit only when the divorced spouse is receiving an SSDI benefit based on being a parent of a child under 16 (or an adult child disabled before age 22).

How Much Is a Divorced Spouse's Survivors Benefit?

Social Security calculates survivors benefits a bit differently. A surviving divorced spouse's benefits are usually more and vary between 75% and 100% of the deceased worker's PIA (primary insurance amount—the monthly SSDI benefit). The specific amount depends on your age as the divorced spouse and whether you care for your ex-spouse's minor or disabled children. Here are the rules:

  • A mother or father taking care of a minor or disabled child will receive 75% percent of the deceased worker's PIA.
  • An ex-spouse between 50 and 60 years old with a disability will receive 71 ½% of the deceased worker's PIA.
  • An ex-spouse between the age of 60 and full retirement age (66 or 67) will receive 71-99% percent of the deceased worker's PIA.
  • An ex-husband or wife who's reached full retirement age will get 100% of the deceased worker's PIA.

Note that the benefits paid to surviving divorced spouses are never reduced due to the maximum family benefit.

How to Apply for Divorced Spouse's Social Security Benefits

If your ex-spouse's disability claim has already been approved, you can call the Social Security Administration (SSA) at (800) 772-1213 to set up an appointment to apply for the divorced spouse's SSDI benefit. You must provide the SSA with the following:

  • your birth certificate
  • your marriage certificate
  • your divorce papers
  • your Social Security number
  • your disabled ex's Social Security number (if you have it), and
  • your bank's routing information for direct deposit.

If you're applying for a survivors benefit, you'll also need to provide a death certificate or other proof from the funeral home that your ex-wife or husband has died.

If your ex-spouse is medically eligible for disability but hasn't filed for SSDI, you might need to hire a Social Security disability lawyer to help you apply for SSDI divorced spouse's benefits.

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