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This week’s question is from Grace:
My first husband and I divorced in 2006 after 35 years of marriage. I remarried that same year. I’m now 71, and my ex-husband will turn 70 in November. My ex and I started taking Social Security when we turned 62. Both my ex-husband and current husband bring in more each month in Social Security income than I do. Is it possible for me to increase my Social Security benefits by claiming spousal benefits on either my ex’s Social Security account or on that of my current husband?
Grace, this is a great question. Many people may wonder about similar issues, since the divorce rate among the 50-and-over population has been increasing sharply in recent years.
2 key issues to consider
There are two issues to deal with here:
- Spousal (including ex-spousal) benefits
- Survivor’s benefits
Let’s consider spousal benefits first. Since you have remarried, you are not eligible for ex-spousal benefits unless your current marriage ends from divorce or death. You are, however, potentially eligible for spousal benefits on your current husband’s record, depending on the size of your benefits relative to your current husband’s benefits.
A critical fact is the size that your benefits would have been had you and your current husband claimed at full retirement age (FRA) — not what you currently receive.
Example: Suppose your FRA benefit is $1,000 monthly. If your husband’s benefit exceeds twice that amount, or $2,000, then you qualify for a spousal supplement to your own benefits. If his benefit is less than $2,000, you do not qualify for any supplemental payment.
If you do qualify for a supplemental spousal benefit, how much you will receive is based on a somewhat complicated calculation, which you can learn more about here.
One further point: Since your current marriage has lasted more than 10 years, should it end in divorce, you qualify for ex-spousal benefits under both ex-husbands’ records.
Next, let’s talk about survivor’s benefits. If your current husband dies, you are definitely eligible for a survivor’s benefit on his record. You would simply switch from your benefit to his higher benefit.
Whether you qualify for survivor’s benefits on your ex-husband’s record depends on your age when you remarried. If you remarried prior to turning 60, you are not eligible. However, if you remarried after turning 60, then you are indeed eligible for survivor’s benefits on your ex-husband’s record, even if your current husband is alive.
Further, if you outlive both your ex-husband and your current one, and you remarried after age 60, you can pick which survivor’s benefit is the highest.
Grace, I hope this answer helps you get some extra money, either now or in the future.
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I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years. In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.
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Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.