The Social Security Administration doesn't just pay retirement benefits to workers; it also pays them to the spouses and ex-spouses of workers. Spouses and ex-spouses are eligible for benefits of up to one-half the amount paid to the worker. You can file for Social Security benefits based on your ex-husband's work record, but both you and he will have to be at least 62 years old, and you must meet other standards.
According to the Social Security Administration, for you to collect spousal benefits based on your ex-husband's work history, he must be "entitled" and "eligible" to receive retirement benefits himself. Workers cannot collect any Social Security retirement benefits until they reach age 62. Therefore, your ex-husband must be at least 62 years old for you to begin drawing spousal benefits.
His Benefit Status
With one exception, all that matters is whether your ex-husband has reached the eligible age to receive Social Security retirement benefits -- not whether he's actually drawing those benefits. Even if he has not begun receiving benefits, you'll still be eligible, as long as he is 62 and as long as you meet the other criteria for divorced spouse benefits. But here's the exception: If you have been divorced less than two years, you cannot claim spousal benefits unless your ex-husband is drawing benefits himself.
To get spousal benefits based on your ex-husband's record, you must have been married to him for at least 10 years. You must be at least 62 years old yourself, and you must be unmarried. When you remarry, you lose the ability to claim benefits on an ex-spouse's record. However, if that new marriage ends -- through divorce, annulment or your spouse's death -- you can once again claim benefits on the first ex-husband's record. Finally, if your own work history qualifies you for a larger benefit than you would have received as a divorced spouse, Social Security will pay you your own benefit rather than spousal benefits.
It should be noted that people become entitled to Social Security benefits only by working and paying Social Security taxes. Most people have to work and pay taxes for 10 years to qualify for retirement benefits. If your ex-husband hasn't built up a sufficient work history to qualify for benefits himself, you can't get spousal benefits either, regardless of your age, his age or how long you were married.
Cam Merritt is a writer and editor specializing in business, personal finance and home design. He has contributed to USA Today, The Des Moines Register and Better Homes and Gardens"publications. Merritt has a journalism degree from Drake University and is pursuing an MBA from the University of Iowa.