While most people are aware that they can collect Social Security benefits based on their current spouse’s earnings, many are not aware that they may be able to collect based on an ex-spouse’s earnings.
Here’s how Social Security divorce benefits work:
If you were married to your ex-spouse for at least ten years, you may be able to receive benefits based on his or her earnings record. It doesn’t matter how long ago you were married to that person as long as the marriage lasted for at least ten years.
You can not collect divorce benefits on an ex-spouse’s earnings if you have remarried. However, if you have been married more than once and each marriage lasted at least ten years, you can collect benefits on either of your ex-spouse’s earnings. So if one benefit would be higher than the other you can choose the higher benefit, no matter which ex-spouse it is based on or how long ago the marriage ended.
Similar to retirement and spousal benefits, you must wait until age 62 before you can start receiving divorce benefits. The early retirement penalty will apply, so just remember that your benefits will be reduced permanently if you apply before you reach your full retirement age.
Your ex-spouse must be age 62 or older and must be eligible for benefits before you can apply for divorce benefits against his record. However, if you have been divorced for at least 2 years, you can apply for benefits before your ex-spouse applies. In addition, you do NOT have to notify your ex-spouse to apply for benefits against his record. He doesn’t ever have to know you are receiving benefits based on his earnings record. You just need to give the Social Security administration enough information so that they can calculate your benefits.
If you are divorced, it could benefit you to apply for benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings, especially if his earnings are significantly higher than yours. This could also affect your future marriage plans, since this benefit would end if you remarried, so it’s important to plan carefully to make sure you get the greatest benefit you are entitled to.