Social Security, like most retirement programs, considers the wife a partner in the contributions to the plan. An ex-wife may qualify for Social Security benefits along with a present wife, based on the work history of the husband. The same is true of either spouse, because Social Security is gender-neutral. An ex-husband may claim benefits based on the ex-wife’s work history if he qualifies.
When you reach retirement age, your ex-wife may decide to collect Social Security retirement benefits based on your work history. If you were married at least 10 years, she is entitled to benefits if she has not remarried. If she remarries, she must do so after age 60 or the remarriage must have ended prior to claiming benefits on your work history. If you have been divorced at least two years, she can collect retirement benefits without your applying for your benefits.
An ex-wife can receive 50 percent of the amount you receive at full retirement age once she reaches full retirement age. Full retirement age for most retirees in 2011 is age 66, which is Social Security retirement age for those born between 1943 and 1954. If she chooses to take early retirement, she receives about 35 percent of your benefits. If she worked and paid into the Social Security system, she may choose to collect benefits on her own work history, or she may delay her benefits and collect on your work history.
An ex-wife collects benefits independent of you, and the benefits she draws on your work history have no effect on your benefits. Your present wife can collect benefits as well, and the rules are the same as for the ex-wife. Early retirement benefits start at age 62, and Social Security reduces the wife’s benefit to about 35 percent of the full retirement benefit calculation as shown on your Social Security statement provided each year.
If you choose to collect your retirement benefits at age 62, you receive about 75 percent of the full retirement benefit calculation. You receive 100 percent at full retirement age and 130 percent at age 70. If you choose to take early benefits, you can affect the future benefits of dependents. If you die, your survivors cannot get more than you would have received, so if you take early benefits at 75 percent, Social Security bases survivor’s benefits on the 75 percent figure, not 100 percent.
Linda Richard has been a legal writer and antiques appraiser for more than 25 years, and has been writing online for more than 12 years. Richard holds a bachelor's degree in English and business administration. She has operated a small business for more than 20 years. She and her husband enjoy remodeling old houses and are currently working on a 1970s home.