If you were married for ten years or longer, you may be entitled to spouse’s benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record.
The requirements for receiving divorced spouse’s benefits are: 1) you must be single, 2) you must be at least 62 years of age, 3) your spouse must be entitled to Social Security retirement or Social Security disability benefits (for retirement benefits, he or she must be at least 62, the earliest age for beginning early retirement benefits. You may receive ex-spouse benefits whether or not he or she has applied for retirement benefits – as some people elect to delay retirement benefits beyond full retirement age in order to allow the benefits to grow until age 70), and 4) the benefit amount you are entitled to from your own work record is less than the amount of spouse’s benefits you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work record.
The amount of your divorce spouse’s benefits will be one-half of your ex-spouse’s benefits at full retirement age, if you begin receiving benefits at your own full retirement age. You cannot receive more than this. In other words, you cannot receive delayed retirement credits that your ex-spouse may be entitled to. (Retirement benefits that are delayed beyond full retirement age grow at 8% per year until age 70 – but divorced spouse’s benefits do not similarly grow).
If you remarry, you generally are not entitled to divorced spouse’s benefits unless your marriage has ended due to your spouse’s death, or due to divorce or annulment.
If your ex-spouse qualifies for retirement benefits but has not yet applied for them, you can receive benefits based on his or her work record if you have been divorced for at least two years.
If you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own work record as well as ex-spouse’s benefits, you will receive your own retirement benefits first and then an additional amount until the combined benefit equals the higher amount – i.e., one-half of your ex-spouse’s benefit amount.
If you were born before January 2, 1954 and have reached full retirement age, you may elect to receive only divorced spouse benefits and delay your own retirement benefits to a later date (thus allowing your own retirement benefits to grow at the 8% per year rate mentioned above). This option is not available to those born after that date. If you were born after January 2nd, 1954, and file for one benefit, you will in effect be filing for all retirement and spousal benefits.
Your receipt of ex-spouse’s benefits will not affect the amount of benefits your spouse receives.
https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html (visited October 6, 2016).
In addition, if you have been married ten years or longer and your ex-spouse dies, you may be entitled to widow’s benefits after you reach age 60 (or 50 if you are disabled). The amount you receive will not affect the amount other survivors of your ex-spouse receive. If you survive your ex-spouse and remarry after age 60 (or age 50 if you are disabled), then the remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits.
If you survived your ex-spouse and are caring for you and your ex-spouse’s disabled child or child who is under age 16, the length of marriage rule will not apply. The child must be you and your ex-spouse’s natural or legally adopted child. The amount you receive in such a circumstance may affect the amount other survivors of your ex-spouse receive.
https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/onyourown3.html (visited October 6, 2016).
The period of time between your youngest child’s 16th birthday and your 60th birthday, if you are a surviving spouse or ex-spouse, is sometimes referred to in financial planning circles as the social security “blackout period”, because it is the period of time in which you are not eligible for survivors benefits.
An important takeaway from this, in my opinion, is that if you are in a broken relationship but have been married for close to 10 years, it may make sense to have the divorce delayed until the marriage has lasted 10 years or longer. This is particularly true if you have not worked enough to earn significant retirement benefits.
This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.