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How Does a Second Marriage Affect Social Security Benefits?

A reader writes in, asking:

“I am currently receiving Social Security from my first spouse. If I get remarried, will I still be able to collect benefits from that spouse?”

The answer depends on whether this former spouse is “former” because he/she is deceased or because you got divorced.

Effect of Remarriage on Surviving Spouse Benefits

One of the requirements to receive widow(er) benefits is that you must be unmarried. There are, however, three cases in which you can be married (i.e., to a new spouse) and still receive a widow(er) benefit on your deceased spouse’s work record:

  1. You remarried after you became 60 years old.
  2. You are now age 60 or older and you meet both of the following conditions:
    • You remarried after attaining age 50 but before attaining age 60.
    • At the time of the remarriage, you were entitled to widow’s or widower’s benefits as a disabled widow or widower.
  3. You are now at least age 50 but not yet age 60 and you meet both of the following conditions:
    • You remarried after attaining age 50.
    • You met the disability requirements in paragraph (c) of this Code section at the time of your remarriage.

Effect of Remarriage on Divorced Spouse Benefits

With regard to divorced spouse benefits, such benefits will end if you marry someone else (i.e., somebody other than the former spouse on whose work record you are currently collecting benefits). There is one exception, however: If your new spouse is currently receiving Social Security benefits as a wife, husband, widow, widower, father, mother, parent, or disabled child (i.e., a benefit other than a retirement benefit), you can continue receiving divorced spouse benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record.

That may sound confusing, so let’s run through an example.

Allan and Anna are married. Because Anna has devoted her life to raising their children and volunteering for assorted organizations, she doesn’t have enough work credits to qualify for her own retirement benefit.

Burt and Beth are married. Similar to Anna, Burt has been a full-time parent/volunteer, and he doesn’t have enough work credits to qualify for a retirement benefit.

Both couples get divorced, and Anna and Burt eventually qualify for (and begin receiving) benefits based on their ex-spouse’s work records.

Anna and Burt meet and fall in love. If it were not for the exception described above, if they were to get married, neither one would qualify for any Social Security benefits. That is, neither one has a retirement benefit, and therefore neither one can receive any spousal benefits on the other one’s work record.

Because of the exception described above, however, both Anna and Burt can continue receiving spousal benefits on their ex-spouses’ work records.

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