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Can I collect Social Security as a divorced spouse and wait to claim my own retirement benefit?

In most circumstances, no. You can only file what Social Security calls a “restricted application” to claim ex-spousal benefits alone and postpone claiming your retirement benefits if: 

  • You were born before Jan. 2, 1954. 
  • You were married for at least 10 years to your former spouse.
  • You are currently unmarried. 
  • Your former spouse has filed for his or her own Social Security benefits, or your ex-spouse is at least 62 and you have been divorced at least two years.

If you meet all these criteria, you can file for divorced-spouse benefits now and switch to a retirement benefit later. This way, you can earn delayed retirement credits, increasing your benefit by 2/3 of 1 percent for each month you wait, up until you turn 70. 

Divorced spouses who don’t qualify for a restricted application are subject to Social Security’s “deemed filing” rule. Under this regulation, individuals filing for retirement benefits who are also eligible for spousal benefits must claim both at the same time. The provision applies to divorced as well as married filers. You won't get both benefits combined; Social Security will pay the higher of the two benefit amounts.

Keep in mind

  • There is one more exception to deemed filing for divorced spouses. Regardless of when you were born, you can file a restricted application if you are entitled to Social Security disability payments.
  • Deemed filing does not cover survivor benefits. If your former spouse is deceased, you can apply for and collect benefits on his or her record and delay your own retirement claim.

Updated May 10, 2021