The first requirement to collect social security based on your ex’s work history is that your marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter if your ex has since remarried—you’re still in the picture benefits-wise.
Remarriage is an issue for you, however. In order to collect a divorced-spouse Social Security benefit, you must currently be single. If you did remarry, that marriage must have ended as well (and you could then choose to collect on either spouse, whichever benefit is higher—but you can’t collect on both).
Third, you must be at least 62 years old. And finally, the benefit you would receive based on your own work record must be less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex’s record.
It’s also interesting to note that the amount that you collect on your ex-spouse’s earnings record won’t have any effect on what your ex or his or her current spouse can collect.
That may all sound simple enough. But there’s a little more to think about.
If you meet the basic qualifications, congratulations! However, in terms of determining the best time for you to take this benefit, there are a couple of things to consider.
A Social Security spousal benefit—whether you’re married or divorced—is at most 50% of the spouse’s benefit. Realize, though, that if you decide to take it before you reach your full retirement age (FRA), which is 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954, your 50% benefit will be permanently reduced even more—between 7 and 8% for each year leading up to your FRA. Depending on your current financial situation, it might make more economic sense to wait.
There’s yet another reason to consider waiting. At your FRA, if you’re eligible for benefits on your own record, as well as that of your ex, you can choose to initially take only the divorced-spouse benefit and delay taking your own benefit until a later date.
Because benefits go up by about 8% a year between the ages of 66 and 70, waiting to collect your own benefit could mean a significantly higher payout down the road. Just for the record, the spousal benefit doesn’t go up after you reach your FRA, so there’s no advantage to waiting beyond that date.
The rules change a bit if your ex-spouse passes away. If you’re 60 years old and you were married for 10 years or longer, you’re entitled to 100% of your deceased ex-spouse’s Social Security payout, the same as a widow or widower. And, once again, the fact that you collect benefits won’t impact what anyone else can collect.
The rules regarding marital status are different in this case, as well. You can be married and still collect survivor benefits as long as you didn’t remarry until age 60 (for example, you could be married to one person and still collect benefits from another)!
There’s one more exception to the rules governing survivor benefits. If you’re caring for a child who is under age 16 (or disabled) and who is getting benefits on the record of your former spouse, you don’t have to meet the length-of-marriage rule as long as the child is your ex-spouse’s natural or legally adopted child.