Social Security pays benefits to millions of workers and their families. Not only can you claim retirement benefits based on your own work history, but you can also claim spousal or survivor benefits on your spouse's work history. Even if you're divorced, you can sometimes get the same benefits that you would receive if you were still married to your ex-spouse. However, if you decide to marry someone else later on, it can have an impact on your benefits. Let's take a closer look at the complex rules governing Social Security in common remarriage situations.
Remarriage after divorce
If you're divorced but your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can receive spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse's work record. In order to qualify, you must be age 62 or older, and your ex-spouse must be receiving or eligible to receive Social Security benefits. If your ex-spouse hasn't yet applied for Social Security but would qualify under the rules, you can still get spousal benefits as long as you've been divorced for at least two years.
Getting remarried eliminates your ability to receive spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse's work record. Instead, you become eligible for any available spousal benefits based on your new spouse's career earnings history. Interestingly, if you later become unmarried again either because of death or divorce, it's possible that you can become eligible again to collect on benefits based on your first ex-spouse's work history.
Remarriage after the death of your spouse
If you are a widow or widower, then you can receive survivor benefits based on your deceased spouse's work history. Full benefits are available at full retirement age, or you can start collecting reduced benefits as early as age 60. Note that this age is less than the typical minimum age of 62 for retirement benefits. If the surviving spouse is disabled either before the deceased spouse's death or within seven years thereafter, a lower minimum age of 50 applies. A divorced ex-spouse who was married for 10 years or more to the deceased person can also claim survivor benefits.
Here, the rules that apply if you get remarried are slightly different. If you get married before you turn 60, or 50 for those who are disabled as described above, then getting remarried suspends your ability to receive survivor benefits based on your deceased former spouse's retirement benefits. Only if your subsequent marriage ends due to death or divorce can your rights to those survivor benefits get reinstated.
However, if you remarry after reaching either age 60 or age 50 as described above, then you do not lose your right to survivor benefits based on your deceased former spouse's earnings history. The Social Security Administration will coordinate any survivor benefits with Social Security benefits that you might be entitled to receive under your new spouse's record. You'll get whichever amount is higher, but you won't get a double-dipping opportunity in which you can essentially claim both benefits.
Finally, note that if you divorced and are caring for a child under 16 or disabled who gets benefits based on your ex-spouse's record, the 10-year test for the length of marriage doesn't apply with respect to survivor benefits. In other words, you can potentially claim benefits even if you were married for a shorter period of time before divorcing.
Social Security can get complicated in a hurry when dealing with remarriage situations. Make sure you know the rules that apply to your particular situation as part of your pre-wedding financial planning. Otherwise, you could get a nasty surprise when you get back from your honeymoon.