Wives and ex-wives can all receive Social Security benefits based on your income. If you have a current wife and an ex-wife, the Social Security Administration calculates their benefits independently: what your ex gets won't affect your wife's income, and vice versa. They both get the full amount to which they are entitled.
Your wife can potentially receive benefits equal to half of your full retirement benefits. To qualify, she has to wait until you start receiving benefits. She must either be 62 or older or taking care of a child of yours under 16 who gets Social Security disability. If either of you is under full retirement age -- 67 for anyone born after 1959 -- she gets less than the full 50 percent.
Your current wife doesn't get Social Security through you until you file for your own benefits. It's different for ex-wives: even if you decide to wait until full retirement age to file, your ex -wife can file as soon as you're old enough to qualify. Your ex qualifies if she's 62 or older, currently single, and your marriage lasted at least 10 years. She gets zero benefits through you if she remarries, unless that other marriage ends.
Working Wives and Ex-Wives
If your wife or ex-wife worked for a living, she may be able to claim benefits under her own work history. If she gets better benefits based on her own income, the SSA won't let her double-dip and get benefits through you too. If, however, her spousal benefits are better than her own, she gets the higher amount. If she has a separate pension for work not covered by Social Security -- typical of certain government jobs, for instance -- the SSA may lower her spousal benefits.
Gains and Losses
If your wife or ex-wife is full retirement age, she can postpone collecting her own benefits and receive spousal benefits instead. This earns credits from the SSA that boost her own Social Security income when she finally claims it. If she works while receiving benefits and she's under full retirement age, SSA cuts her benefits, but it makes up the losses with bigger payments later. At full retirement age, she can work without any cut to her benefits.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.