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Rules for receiving benefits after a marriage ends

Social Security benefits may be offered to an individual based on his or her spouse's work record. This is generally true if the individual was married to that spouse for at least 10 years. The amount of the benefit is equal to 50% of the benefit that the former spouse is set to receive. However, that former spouse will still receive his or her full benefits.

In the event that a person is eligible for their own benefits, that person will receive his or her benefit first. To qualify for benefits based on a former spouse's work record, the person asking for benefits must be at least 62 years old and not married. If someone has multiple marriages of 10 years or longer, he or she may choose the work record to base a benefit payment on.

If a person does ask for Social Security benefits at age 62, the amount of each payment will be reduced. For anyone born after 1960, the full retirement age is 67. Regardless of the age at which an individual applies, he or she must have been divorced for at least two years before doing so. After two years, an application for benefits can be made even if the former spouse has not yet asked for his or her benefit yet.

In a long-term marriage, one spouse may choose not to work or otherwise earn less than the other. That spouse may be entitled to financial assistance to help maintain a reasonable standard of living. Assistance may come in the form of alimony, a larger share of marital assets or accessing government benefits based on the other spouse's work record. An attorney may provide further insight into how a person can prepare for life financially after a divorce.

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