If you are divorced, but your marriage lasted ten years or longer, you can receive benefits on your own earnings record and/or your ex-spouse's record as long as you are unmarried, are age 62 or older, the benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than what you would receive based on your ex-spouse's work, and your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them (i.e. is at least age 62 with the necessary work record), you can receive benefits on his or her record if you have been divorced for at least two years. If your ex-spouse is at least 62 and already receiving benefits, there is no wait if you are at least 62 and unmarried.
If you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record, social security will pay that amount first, but if 50% of the benefit on his or her record is more, you will get a combination of benefits that equals that higher amount (reduced for age below full retirement age). If you take social security before full retirement age, in other words, 1) your benefit will be permanently reduced for age, and 2) your benefit will be a combination of all you have earned plus some based on your spouse's record.
If you have reached full retirement age, however, and you are eligible for an ex-spouse's benefit AND your own retirement benefit, you can choose between receiving benefits on your own record or on your ex-spouse's record. You can, for instance, choose to receive only the ex-spouse's benefits now and then switch and receive your own delayed retirement benefits at a later date. In that way, you could potentially benefit from the effect of delayed retirement credits (up to age 70) while still receiving social security benefits at your full retirement age.
If you remarry, however, you generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse's record unless your later marriage ends.
Marcia B. Kraus, CFP, CPA, CDFA, formally heads Divorce Financial Strategies, an independent firm in Naperville, IL. She provided advice for clients dealing with the financial issues in and after divorce.