Key takeaways

  • Social Security can be an important stream of cash flow in retirement, whether you are married or divorced.
  • Spouses and ex-spouses may be entitled to Social Security benefits once they reach the age of 62.
  • The longer you wait to collect Social Security, the bigger your monthly payout will be.


China Llanos

Digital Content Writer & Editor, J.P. Morgan Wealth Management

When it comes to retirement, Social Security may become an important source of income during that next chapter – whether you’re married or divorced. It provides a consistent cash flow that’s adjusted for inflation. 

The amount of Social Security benefits you receive each month depends on your age, marital status and length of coupling, which is why it pays to understand how it works. 

Age matters most

You can start collecting Social Security at 62, but you won’t receive your maximum possible benefit until you reach your full retirement age. That’s 67 for people born in 1960 and later. If you decide to collect early, you stand to lose as much as 30% of your benefit. Meanwhile, individuals who delay until age 70 will get as much as 77%1 more in benefits. 

Not everyone’s lifestyle and circumstances support delaying Social Security benefits until age 70. But the longer you and your spouse wait to begin collecting, the more cash flow you’ll have each month.

Marriage has its perks

Social Security covers both spouses, regardless of whether one or both brought home a paycheck over the years. A married person may collect benefits based on their own earnings or receive a maximum of 50% of their spouse’s Social Security benefits, whichever is greater.

There is a catch: the spouse collecting benefits must be at least 62 or have a child who is either under the age of 16 or receiving Social Security disability benefits.2 Additionally, someone cannot receive spousal benefits until their spouse has filed for benefits, regardless of age. If you file to withdraw your own Social Security benefits prior to normal retirement age, the spousal benefit will also be reduced. However, the benefit is not reduced if you are caring for a qualifying child.  

When you apply for spousal benefits, you also apply for benefits based on your own work history. The government will calculate both scenarios. You’ll receive whichever benefit amount is higher. Note that taking a spousal benefit does not reduce the amount the other spouse receives.

Let’s say you are set to receive $1,000 per month based on your work history, meanwhile your spouse is entitled to $400 a month based on their working years. They get  $400 plus an additional $100 to bring their total to half of your benefit. Total benefits for the household would amount to $1,500 a month. If you're entitled to $1,000 per month but your spouse gets $1,400 you’ll receive your benefit, but not half of your spouse’s because your benefit is greater than 50% of your spouse’s benefit. The total benefits for the household would be $2,400.

There is one more caveat. If you receive a pension from a government job and are not required to pay into Social Security while on that job, your benefits and your spouse’s benefits will be reduced by two-thirds of the amount of your government pension. This is known as the Government Pension Offset, or GPO.3 The GPO impacts spouses, widows and widowers. 

Same-sex couples and some domestic partners may be eligible for spousal benefits as well. Even if you are unsure, the Social Security Administration encourages everyone to apply for benefits, which can be done online, via telephone or in-person at your local Social Security office. 

Divorcees may still be eligible

If you are divorced you could potentially still receive spousal benefits, but there are rules that apply. For starters, you must have been married for 10 or more years and you can’t be remarried. To receive ex-spouse benefits you have to be at least 62 years old and your ex-spouse has to be old enough to receive Social Security.4 Your ex-spouse doesn’t have to file for benefits for you to receive them if you have been divorced for two or more years. 

If your ex-spouse has died, you may receive benefits as a widow or widower as well. In that case, you may be eligible for up to 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefits if you have reached full retirement age, at which point you begin to collect survivors’ benefits. However, just like in the other scenarios, the payout is reduced if you are under your full retirement age. 



Social Security Administration, “Delayed Retirement Credits.” (2023).


Social Security Administration, “Understanding Spouse’s Benefits.” (2021).


Social Security Administration, “Your Government Pension May Affect Social Security Benefits.” (2023).


Social Security Administration, “Ex-Spouse Benefits And How They Affect You.” (2018).

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