Life doesn’t always go according to plan, and if your marriage has ended you may wonder what kind of Social Security divorce benefits you’re entitled to.

The good news is Social Security has a plan for people who are divorced, and it could benefit you in a big way. In fact, you could bring in 50% of what your ex-spouse qualifies for.

Social Security divorce benefits works a lot like spousal benefits, but there are some eligibility requirements.

Per the Social Security Administration:

  • You and your ex-spouse need to have been married for at least 10 years.
  • You cannot be remarried, but if your ex-spouse has remarried it will not affect your ability to claim on their benefits.
  • If you have a work record that makes you eligible for Social Security, your benefits received based on your ex-spouse’s work would have to be more than what you are eligible for yourself.
  • You must be at least 62 years old (the minimum Social Security age), and you usually have to wait for your ex-spouse to start claiming before you can claim yourself. You can get around this, though, if you’ve been divorced for at least two continuous years and your ex-spouse hasn’t started claiming yet.

How Social Security Divorce Benefits Work

Social Security divorce benefits are similar to spousal benefits, but like regular Social Security benefits, your full retirement age will determine the amount you get.

If both your ex-spouse and yourself have reached FRA (somewhere between age 66 and 67, currently) you will be eligible for at least the full benefit amount (50%). But if you claim Social Security divorce benefits early, your monthly checks will be reduced depending on how much earlier you claim.

The reduction is pretty substantial, too. Claiming at 62 means you would only be eligible for 35% of your ex-spouse’s full benefit. That number creeps up around 3% per year until you reach FRA.

Social Security divorce benefits will not increase past your FRA like normal benefits do, though, so make sure to claim no later than your FRA to assure you get every check you qualify for.

Some Tips

Arguably the biggest thing to know about Social Security divorce benefits is that they exist, and you could be missing out on a bigger monthly check by not taking them. The SSA doesn’t really make an effort to let you know if you qualify. If you meet those parameters above, you should look into it.

Here’s just one example of how divorce benefits could help you out immensely.

Let’s say you have a work history that qualifies you for $700 per month in regular Social Security at your FRA. Your ex-spouse’s well-paying career qualifies them for $2,000 per month, though, giving you access to a $1,000 benefit and an extra $300 of retirement income every month.

That’s a huge boost. If you are well set up for retirement, you could even consider taking that extra $3,600 per year and reinvesting it for even more gains. Or it could be just what you need to live comfortably.

Social Security divorce benefits can be a big boost in retirement, so knowing how they work means you’ll be able to make the most of them in your own retirement plan.

• You can find all of the latest and most important news about Social Security here on Money & Markets.