The Social Security system provides income during retirement based on the amount of taxes you pay into the system during your lifetime. If you are married, your spouse can qualify for retirement benefits based on your work record if you contributed more money into the system than her during your lifetime. A divorced spouse can potentially claim retirement benefits based on your work when she reaches retirement age if she meets certain eligibility requirements.
Spousal Social Security Benefits
A spouse can receive Social Security benefits based on your work record even if she never worked under Social Security and paid taxes into the system as long as you are receiving or qualify to receive benefits. Spouses can start receiving benefits as early as age 62, but benefits are limited to one-half of your benefit amount. A divorced spouse is also eligible to receive up to half of your full Social Security retirement benefit. If a former spouse receives benefits based on your work record, it does not decrease the amount that you or your current spouse receive.
Divorced Spouse Eligibility
Your former spouse has to satisfy certain eligibility criteria to claim benefits based on your Social Security record. Benefits are not available to a former spouse until age 62, and your marriage must have lasted 10 years or longer for her to qualify. Your former spouse must remain unmarried to claim your benefits. If she remarries but this new marriage ends, she can still collect benefits based on your record. If you qualify for retirement benefits, but have not applied for them, your ex-spouse can receive benefits based on your work record if you have been divorced at least two years.
Social Security benefits for a divorced spouse only apply if the amount the divorced spouse is entitled to based on her work record is less than the amount she is entitled to based on your work record. If your former spouse is entitled to anything based on her own work, that amount is paid first. Your former spouse's benefits may be reduced below half of your full retirement age benefit if she chooses to receive benefits before her full retirement age. Full retirement age is 65 for those born in 1937 or earlier, and it gradually scales up to 67 for those born after that.
Other Retirement Benefits
Retirement benefits other than Social Security, such as employer-provided retirement accounts, pensions and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are divided between spouses during the divorce process. A divorce may include a qualified domestic relations order, which entitles a former souse to a portion of your 401(k), pension or other retirement benefits. A divorce might also force you to transfer funds from an IRA to your ex-spouse.