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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. Under Social Security’s “deemed filing” rule, 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.

It used to be permissible for divorced people who had reached full retirement age to file a “restricted application” for ex-spouse benefits only and delay collecting their retirement benefit so the latter could increase in value.

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Congress changed the rules in 2015, subjecting almost all Social Security claimants to deemed filing. People born before Jan. 2, 1954, were exempted, but everyone in this group has reached 70, the age when you can claim your maximum retirement benefit, and they no longer have a reason to claim a spousal benefit in lieu of their own benefit.

There are two exceptions to deemed filing for divorced spouses. You can file a restricted application for just ex-spouse benefits if you are entitled to Social Security disability payments or are caring for a child from the former marriage who is under 16 or has a disability.

Keep in mind

  • You may qualify for benefits on your former spouse’s earnings record if:
    • You are at least 60 years old (50 if you have a disability).
    • 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, if not, is at least 62 and you have been divorced at least two years.
  • 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.

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