For many couples in New York, Social Security benefits based on one or both spouses' work history can be a lifeline in retirement years. However, when only one spouse qualifies for Social Security benefits, and the couple divorces, some may worry about how they will make it through retirement. Providing that an individual meets a few requirements, he or she may still be able to file for spouse's benefits, even after a divorce.
For married couples that have only had one partner working, Social Security is usually based off of that individual's work history, with some benefits available to the spouse. If the couple was married for at least 10 years, then at 62 years old, a person may file for their spousal benefits, provided that they are currently unmarried. They may claim these benefits even if their ex has not yet applied for Social Security benefits for themselves.
Couples that marry later in life don't have to wait very long to apply for spousal benefits from Social Security, and can actually claim these benefits after as little as one year of marriage. However, this rule only applies while the couple is still married. If they divorce after less than 10 years, then the individual receiving spousal benefits will no longer be eligible.
As noted, an individual who has been through a divorce may claim these benefits provided that they have not remarried. Once remarried, it is assumed that he or she can then claim spousal benefits from his or her new partner. Social Security can be a tricky subject for those in New York, and depending on who can claim what and when, its implications may even help shape the over-division of assets.
Source: fool.com, "Social Security: Older Couples Face a Terrifying Divorce Trap", Dan Caplinger, Sept. 15, 2014