Can you still collect spousal Social Security benefits if you remarry?

Managing the ins and outs of divorce can get complicated. But did you know that you may be able to receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record?

That eligibility, however, may depend on your current (or future) marital status. Here’s what women who have previously experienced divorce need to know about claiming Social Security benefits as an ex-spouse.

An Overview of Spousal Benefits for Ex-Spouses

Social Security benefits for ex-spouses primarily follow two criteria: one is for those with ex-spouses who are still alive, and the other is for those with deceased ex-spouses.

In either case, if you’re eligible for Social Security benefits based on your work record, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay those benefits first. They will then supplement with any spousal benefits, so your total benefits are the higher of the two options—yours or your ex-spouses. 

However, it’s important to note that the SSA will either pay the spousal benefit or your benefit, but not both.

If Your Ex-Spouse Is Alive

There are a few criteria you must meet to receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record:

  • You were married for at least 10 years
  • You’re over 62 years old
  • You’re currently unmarried
  • You’ve been divorced for two consecutive years

If you fit these criteria, you may be eligible to receive ex-spousal benefits. Your ex-spouse, however, must be entitled to Social Security benefits for you to be eligible. They don’t have to start taking benefits before you; they just need to be qualified.

If Your Ex-Spouse is Deceased

Again, you must meet a few criteria to qualify for benefits as the ex-spouse of a deceased individual.

To qualify for a survivor benefit, you must:

  • Be at least 60, or 50 if you have a disability
  • Have been married to the deceased for at least 10 years
  • Not get remarried before age 60

However, if you marry after turning 60, you may still qualify to receive survivor benefits from a deceased ex-spouse.

What If You Remarry?

In general, if you get divorced and are remarried, you can’t claim spousal benefits off of your ex-spouse’s work record.

If your ex-spouse remarries, but you remain legally single, you still can claim the spousal benefit (assuming you meet all other criteria). Your ex-spouse’s relationship status does not impact your eligibility.

A Case Study

These rules can get complicated, especially when multiple marriages are involved. Here’s a scenario in which a widow discovered she could receive surviving spousal benefits:

Caroline is in her 70s. Her husband, Harold, passed away several months ago. Harold was Caroline’s second husband. He had a federal job, meaning he wasn’t eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Because of this, Caroline is not eligible to receive Social Security survivor benefits based on Harold’s work record. She is, however, currently receiving her own Social Security benefits.

Before Harold, Caroline was married to Steve for 20 years. Steve died several years ago. Unlike Harold, Steve was eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Because Caroline is no longer married, we found that she is eligible to receive Social Security survivor benefits based on Steve’s work record. 

If Caroline had never explored this possibility with her financial advisor, she would have assumed she wasn’t entitled to anything. That’s why it’s essential to consider all options for Social Security eligibility and benefits, even if you remarry.

How Divorcees Can Maximize Their Social Security Benefits

Whether receiving Social Security benefits based on your own work record or that of an ex-spouse, one of the most effective ways to maximize benefits is by waiting to collect until your full retirement age; it’s the only way to get 100% of your benefits, no matter whose record it’s based on. 

For those born in 1960 or later, full retirement age is 67. If you’re younger than your ex-spouse, your full retirement age will differ from theirs, and you’ll need to wait longer to reach it.

Collecting earlier than 67 will permanently reduce your benefits. If you start collecting at 62, you’d see a reduction of around 30% over the lifetime of receiving benefits.

Waiting until full retirement age will make you eligible to receive the full 50% of your ex-spouse’s benefits.

Preparing to Receive Social Security

If possible, try to get or retain your ex-spouse’s necessary information before the divorce. You’ll need their Social Security number and other identifying info if you intend to apply for spousal benefits.

I highly recommend working with a financial professional to address how Social Security benefits will fit into your retirement plan as a whole. At Wealthcare for Women, I specialize in helping women maximize their retirement income strategies, including their options regarding Social Security.

If you need assistance understanding your benefit options, don’t hesitate to reach out today.