For many divorced people Social Security becomes very important. About half the people who marry in the United States divorce, and Social Security is the primary income for 72% of unmarried retirees. Many unmarried retirees become single because they are divorced. Yet according to the Social Security administration many people do not understand spousal and survival benefits that apply to divorce. In most cases, the wife claims her divorced husband’s benefits, but a dependent husband can also claim spousal and survivor benefits.
A woman divorcing her husband after a marriage that lasted ten or more years should always remember her eligibility for half his Social Security benefit when she turns 62. To do so, the woman must not be married, and she must be divorced for at least two years. For a woman, even those with an employment history, the husband’s benefits will be higher. Spousal eligibility does not depend upon whether a person worked and paid into the system.
The key is remarriage. A spouse who remarries before the age of 60 loses spousal or survivor benefits. A person who marries after 60 retains all his or her spousal or survivor benefits based on a former spouse’s employment. Moreover, a person who married more than one person for more than ten years may claim spousal benefits based on each spouse’s employment.
Survivor benefits are 100 percent of the deceased working spouse’s entitlement, so if a subsequent partner dies his survivor benefits may be better than the first divorced spouse’s spousal benefits.
The Social Security Administration has an informative website at www.ssa.gov.