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Smart Social Security Strategies for Your Gray Divorce

Smart Social Security Strategies for Your Gray Divorce

A grandpa and grandson are blurred in the background with a chess game in focus up front.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, “gray divorce,” it refers to a divorce between two people who are in their elderly years, or who are quickly approaching these years. Gray divorces are becoming more and more common as people live longer and as medicine gets better, improving the quality of life during retirement years. 

In the past, it was very common for people to remain married for their entire lives once they tied the knot. However, now, roughly fifty percent of all marriages end in divorces.

Gray divorces contribute significantly to this statistic.

Divorce rates for people above the age of 50 have doubled since 19. They have tripled for people who are above the age of 65.

Causes of Gray Divorces

There are many different potential causes of gray divorces. For example, financial troubles, infidelity, and a lack of intimacy are all potential causes.

Also, many couples who are in their fifties or sixties suddenly find themselves in situations where their kids have all moved out. Now they have to confront any issues that may have been on the back burner while the kids were growing up.

Many couples only stay together to finish raising the children. Once this task is over with, they often reevaluate their marriages and many find that they are unhappy and decide to end things.

This phenomenon is currently happening to many baby boomers. The baby boomer generation is facing an extremely high gray divorce rate.

Financial Challenges for People Going Through Gray Divorce

Divorce can put people in a very difficult financial situation even without losing social security spousal benefits. This is because one partner may earn significantly more than the other partner.

Older woman at a desk holding her forehead, distressed over finances.

Also, divorce can come with difficulties, such as suddenly having to find a new place to live.

Because divorce can already be challenging, the last thing that you want to have to worry about while you are going through your divorce is losing your social security spousal benefits. Luckily, there are ways to keep these benefits and preserve this aspect of your retirement plan.

However, for social security benefit preserving strategies to work, several criteria must have to be met.

The Key Criteria for Keeping Spousal/Survivor Social Security Benefits After Divorce

To keep spousal social security benefits after a gray divorce is that the marriage must have lasted for at least ten consecutive years.

So, if you were married for nine years or less, if you got divorced after five years and they were remarried and stayed together for seven years, etc. you will not be entitled to spousal social security benefits.

Older man and woman with their layer, signing a divorce agreement.

Sometimes factoring in all of the criteria can get tricky. Your eligibility and benefit amount can change based on factors such as your age. Or whether or not your ex-spouse is deceased.

Because the calculations can be complex, you should talk with an experienced attorney. He or she will help you navigate the complexities of social security so you get the most out of your benefit

5 Smart Social Security Strategies

Now that you have some background knowledge about how social security benefits work for gray divorces, there are several strategies that you should be aware of to get the maximum social security benefit.

Overlapping social security cards with an open padlock on top.

1. Don’t Remarry

If you remarry, then any spousal social security benefit that you are getting from your ex may get canceled. In that case, you will only be entitled to what you have earned yourself. However, this is not the case if your ex dies and if you are receiving survivor benefits.

But, if you want to continue to receive survivor benefits, you can only remarry after you have reached the age of 60. Otherwise, the survivor benefits will be canceled.

If you want to keep the normal social security spousal benefits (not the survivor benefits) from your previous marriage, then you are not allowed to remarry. If you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend and if you still want to keep your spousal benefits, then from a financial perspective, you may want to keep that person as a boyfriend or girlfriend and not make him or her an official husband or wife.

If you do decide to tie the knot, then your spousal social security benefits will end, and you will be forced to rely on social security benefits that you accrued from your lifetime earnings. For many people, this is undesirable as their spousal benefits are significantly higher than their own.

2. Choose the Best Option

If you were married to two different people for at least ten years each before you turned 60, then you can choose which person you would like to receive spousal benefits from. You should choose the one that earned more.

By choosing the spouse that earned more for spousal benefits, you will receive more money from the federal government throughout your retirement. Your monthly check will simply be higher.

It doesn’t matter if you were more in love with the lower-earning spouse, or if you had a better marriage. At this point, both marriages are over.

It is purely about securing the best possible retirement for yourself. So, you should just go with the one who made more money.

It is also important to consider your own earnings history. If your earnings were higher than your ex’s, then you will get the highest social security benefits by filing on your earnings as opposed to filing for spousal benefits.

Before you file, you need to know what your earnings where and the earnings of your ex-spouse as well. 

3. Do Not Wait for Permission from Your Ex

Many spouses make the mistake of thinking that they need to get permission or approval from their ex to file for social security spousal benefits. This is not true.

You do not need to get approval from your ex to get spousal social security benefits. You just have to be of retirement age, not remarried, and to have been married to him or her for at least 10 years.

Many marriages end with the two partners resenting each other and not wanting to help one another at all. So, if spousal permission was required to get spousal social security benefits, then many divorced people would not be able to get access to them.

But spousal permission is not required, so do not let your ex try to convince you that it is. You can file for spousal social security benefits without your ex’s permission.

4. Use Spousal Benefits to Optimize Your Benefit

If you are unaware of this, accessing your social security benefits earlier results in a lower monthly check from the Social Security Administration. The longer you wait, the more that you will get.

If you wait until you are age 70 to take out your social security benefits, then you will receive 132 percent of your normal benefit every month.

It makes things easier for the Social Security Administration if people wait longer to claim their benefits. So, they reward the people who do.

But, if you were divorced and are entitled to spousal benefits, then you can use your spousal benefits between the age of 62-70. Then only start relying on your benefits when they have matured and when you are age 70.

Every year that you wait to receive your social security benefits, the amount that you will be entitled to increases by 8 percent.

So, your monthly check will be significantly higher if you rely on your spousal social security benefits for the first eight years of retirement. Then switch to your benefits.

5. Do Not Wait for Your Ex to File for His or Her Benefits

Like waiting for permission, this is another classic mistake that many people make when it comes to social security benefits following a gray divorce. People who do not know the nuances of how social security benefits work often think that they cannot file for spousal benefits until their ex-spouse does.

This is not true. As long as you were married for ten years, have not remarried, and are currently over the age of 62, then you can file for spousal social security benefits regardless of whether or not your ex has filed.

In some situations, ex-spouses try to trick their partners to think that they can only file after they have filed for social security benefits themselves. This is often done out of spite because it is common for there to be a lot of resentment regarding gray divorces.

However, sometimes it is done out of one partner’s mistaken understanding of the rules. So, just be aware of this and don’t listen to your spouse if he or she tries to tell you that you cannot file until they do.

Other Key Information

You Filing for Spousal Benefits Will Not Affect Your Ex’s Benefits

If you are hesitating to file for spousal social security benefits because you think it is going to negatively affect your spouse’s benefits, then you are making a mistake. The amount of money that your ex receives in social security benefits is going to be determined by how much he made during his working years, and at what age he decides to start receiving his benefits.

Bright pink piggy bank sits in front of an older couple each engrossed in thought.

Whether or not you file for spousal benefits based on his or her earnings is not going to affect the amount of money that your ex can receive in social security benefits for his or her retirement years.

So, if your ex is trying to tell you that you filling for spousal benefits will reduce the amount of money that he or she can receive, don't listen. This is not true.

You Filing for Spousal Benefits will not Affect Your Ex’s New Spouse’s Benefits

If you are worried that your ex’s new spouse will not be able to claim spousal social security benefits based on your ex’s earnings if you do, then stop worrying. This is not the case.

Whether or not you file for spousal benefits based on your ex’s earnings will not impact your ex’s new husband or wife’s ability to claim spousal social security benefits based on his earnings.

The system is simply set up to allow anyone who has been married to another person for at least ten years, who is not remarried, and who is over the age of 62 to file for spousal social security benefits based on the ex’s earnings.

So, you don’t have to feel guilty, thinking that you will be stealing your ex’s new partner’s benefits by filing for spousal benefits. They will still be able to file too as long as they stay married to your ex for at least ten years.

There is No Point in Waiting Until After Age 70 to Switch from Spousal Benefits to Your Benefits

The reason why this is true is that if you are using spousal benefits to collect social security payouts, then your account will only increase by 8 percent per year until you are 70.

After age 70, it stops increasing in value. So, there is no point in waiting until you are age 71, 72, 73, etc. to start collecting your social security benefits.

You might as well switch over to your account once you turn seventy. By that time, your account will have matured as much as it is going to. So, there is no benefit to waiting longer to receive your benefits.

Once Your Start Receiving Social Security Benefits, Your Ex Does Not Have the Power to Cut You Off from Them

This is very important to know because sometimes ex-spouses will try to threaten to cancel their partner’s social security benefits out of anger or resentment. Or perhaps as an attempt to try to get control over their former partner.

However, an ex-spouse can't cancel their former partner’s spousal social security benefits.

Only the Social Security Administration has the power to cut you off from your social security benefits. The SSA would only cut you off from your benefits if they are legally obligated to do so.


If you are going through a gray divorce than you might find yourself in an uncomfortable financial situation. This is especially true if you were used to depending on your spouse for a significant amount of your expenses.

Older couple smiling having coffee with their divorce attorney

Many people who go through gray divorces are unaware of all of the strategies they can use to help secure their retirement and their finances into their elderly years.

Using the right social security strategies to get spousal or survivor’s benefits are one of the absolute best things that you can do to protect yourself financially if you are going through a gray divorce.

To recap, if you want to get the most out of the spousal social security benefits that you are entitled to, then you should…

  • Not remarry
  • Choose the highest-earning spouse to claim from if you had multiple
  • Not wait for permission from your ex to file
  • Use your spousal benefits before age 70 to maximize your social security benefit, and not wait for your ex to file before you file for yours.

Is it time for you to start planning your social security strategy?

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