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How Do Divorce and Remarriage Affect Social Security Benefits?
It is common knowledge that husbands and wives are entitled to collect Social Security benefits on their spouses' work records. Less well known is that this benefit applies to divorced spouses as long as the spouse has not remarried. Divorced spouses are even entitled to survivor benefits in certain circumstances.
As a spouse, you have the option of claiming a Social Security retirement benefit based on your own earnings record or collecting a spousal benefit equal to half of your spouse’s Social Security benefit. You are automatically entitled to whichever benefit is higher and you can collect on your spouse’s record even if you have never worked yourself.
As a divorced spouse you can collect benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, even if the ex-spouse has remarried and even if the ex-spouse’s new spouse is collecting on the same record.
But to get this benefit, you must meet the following requirements:
- You were married for at least 10 straight years
- You are at least 62 years old
- Your ex-spouse is eligible for retirement benefits
- You are currently unmarried
If your ex-spouse has not yet applied for retirement benefits but can qualify for them, you can receive benefits on his or her record provided you have been divorced for at least two years.
In addition, if you have reached full retirement age and are eligible for both a spouse's benefit and your own retirement benefit, you have a choice. You can receive only the spouse's benefit and delay receiving your own retirement benefits until a later date. The longer you delay taking your own benefits, the higher the benefit you receive later will be (up to age 70).
If you remarry, you cannot receive benefits on your former spouse's record unless the new marriage ends (by death, divorce, or annulment).
If you are the divorced spouse of a worker who has passed away, you could still be eligible for survivors benefits if the marriage lasted 10 years or more. Survivors benefits are equivalent to the deceased spouse’s full Social Security benefit amount.
However, if you remarry before the age of 60, you cannot collect survivors benefits (unless the later marriage ends for any reason). If you remarry after age 60, you can still receive survivors benefits based on your former spouse’s record. However, if your new spouse is also collecting Social Security benefits and you would receive a higher amount based on the new spouse’s work record, you will receive the higher amount.
Additionally if you are caring for a child under age 16 or disabled who is getting benefits on the record of your former spouse, you would not have to meet the 10-year marriage rule.
For more information on Social Security benefits for spouses and children, click here.