Social Security retirement is a federal government program that pays benefits to older Americans provided that they are entitled to them. Spouses are able to receive partial or full benefits based on their spouse’s work record. Many people are also entitled to benefits based on their spouse’s work record even after divorce, but there are certain criteria that the parties need to meet for this to occur.
Requirements for Spousal Benefits After Divorce
The Ten Year Rule
If your marriage lasted less than ten years, then you are not entitled to survivor or retirement benefits
In order to be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits on an ex-spouse’s work record, you need to have been legally married for at least ten years. If you are relying on your ex-spouse’s account, you need to be currently unmarried. It is permissible to have had another spouse since you got divorced, but that subsequent marriage needs to have ended in death or divorce in order for you to be eligible to use your previous ex-spouse’s benefits. It does not matter whether they have remarried or not.
The Social Security Administration also requires the person trying to collect benefits be at least 62 years of age. Finally, the benefit that you would receive based on your own work history needs to be less than the benefits that you will receive under your ex-spouse’s record. Of course, your ex-spouse needs to be eligible for benefits in the first place as well, or else there are no benefits to draw from.
Amount of Spousal Benefits
As long as you wait until your full retirement age, and provided that you meet all the other criteria, you will be able to collect 50% of the amount of benefits that your ex-spouse is entitled to. Keep in mind that this does not reduce the amount of benefits that the ex-spouse will receive. If you are entitled to benefits on both your own record and on your former spouse’s record, you will be paid the higher amount. However, first your benefits will be exhausted and then your spouse’s benefits will fill in the difference between your full amount and half of your ex-spouse’s amount of benefits.
If your ex-spouse dies, you may be able to collect Social Security survivors’ benefits on their account. Once again, you need to have been married for at least ten years. If you are under age 50 when you start receiving these benefits, you must remain unmarried in order to collect survivors’ benefits on your ex-spouse’s account. If you are disabled it will not count against your access to benefits to remarry at age 50. For everyone else, remarriages after age 60 will not affect access to survivors’ benefits on a deceased ex-spouse’s record.
Ex-spouses are also entitled to survivors’ benefits on their deceased former spouse’s record no matter how long the marriage lasted as long as the ex-spouse is currently caring for the deceased spouse’s child. The child needs to be either the biological or adopted child of the deceased ex-spouse, and the child needs to be under age 16 or disabled.
Social Security law can be complicated, and you may unknowingly reduce the amount of benefits that you are entitled to when you go through the divorce process. A knowledgeable divorce attorney can help you assess your eligibility for benefits, and help you secure the amounts to which you are entitled.