Can you collect Social Security benefits on your ex-spouse's earnings record?
If you were married 10 years or longer, haven't remarried (or remarried but that subsequent marriage ended in death, divorce, dissolution or annulment) and you're aged 62 or older, then the short answer is, "Yes."
You most certainly can.
You can also collect widow or widower's benefits if you meet the length-of-marriage and remarriage requirements and your ex-spouse dies. (Additionally, you can remarry after the age of 60 without the subsequent marriage affecting your right to survivor's benefits -- or after the age of 50 if you happen to qualify as disabled under Social Security's rules.)
A lot of people become confused because they may have signed an agreement in their divorce saying that they give up any claim on their ex-spouse's Social Security benefits.
However, it's important to understand that you cannot give up your entitlement to your own federal benefits -- which is what spousal benefits are, even if they are being paid through your ex-spouse's earning's record. Any benefit you are paid will have no affect on your ex-spouse's own retirement or disability income -- in fact, he or she may never even be aware that you filed for the benefits. They are not considered a form of alimony.
There are, of course, a number of situations that could prevent you from receiving those benefits, some of which we mentioned above. If you happen to be due more money through Social Security based on your own earnings, that's another common reason that would stop you from receiving anything on your ex-spouse's earnings. You can only collect the higher of the two benefits -- not both.
Having a basic understanding of your rights to Social Security benefits after your divorce is important to your long-term financial planning. Your divorce attorney should be able to tell you more about the benefits to which you may be entitled, but you should also consider checking with Social Security directly. Never simply assume you can't receive benefits on an ex-spouse's Social Security record until you speak with the Social Security Administration.
Source: Peninsula Daily News, "Help Line: Divorced? You could be eligible for ex-spouse benefits," Mark Harvey, July 02, 2017