When Marriage Costs You Social Security Income

The amount of Social Security benefits you're able to claim upon retirement depends in part on your marital history.

When Marriage Costs You Social Security Income Photo by Elnur / Shutterstock.com

Getting remarried can ding the Social Security benefits you stand to earn in retirement.

The effects of remarriage, as well as divorce, on Social Security income are among the many quirks of the system that it pays to understand, even well ahead of retirement. Like other aspects of Social Security, though, it’s not exactly straightforward.

Divorce: Potentially beneficial for the spouse who earned less benefits

If you get married and remain with the same person for the rest of your life, Social Security retirement benefits are relatively simple. When the time comes, each of you will have the standard options for claiming your respective amounts of Social Security income.

If you divorce, however, Social Security becomes more complicated — and potentially beneficial to you if your ex racked up more in Social Security benefits over the course of his or her working life.

As we explain in “10 Hazards of Divorcing When You’re Older,” you may be eligible to receive half the amount of your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits — provided you meet several requirements.

According to the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA), if you meet the following requirements, you may be able to collect half of what’s known as your spouse’s “full retirement amount” of Social Security:

  • You are entitled to Social Security benefits.
  • The marriage lasted 10 years or longer.
  • You are unmarried.
  • You are age 62 or older.
  • The benefit that your ex-spouse is entitled to receive based on his or her own work is more than the benefit he or she would receive based on your work.

Important to note: The benefits your ex-spouse gets has no effect on the amount of benefits you (or your future spouse) may receive. In other words, anything received by your ex doesn’t reduce what you’ll get.

Remarriage: Potentially costly for the spouse who earned less benefits

It’s upon remarriage that things get more complicated — and potentially costly for whichever of the original two spouses racked up less in Social Security benefits based on his or her own work.

Let’s say John and Jane were married for at least 10 years before splitting. Let’s also say that, upon divorce, Jane became eligible for half the amount of John’s Social Security benefits.

Now, if Jane remarries, she risks losing her first husband’s benefits. SSA explains:

“If you remarry, you generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ends (whether by death, divorce, or annulment).”

In reality, it can be more complicated than this, based on your own individual circumstances. But it’s safe to say that your Social Security benefits are something to consider not only well ahead of retirement, but ahead of a marriage, divorce or remarriage.

So, if you’re considering divorce or remarriage, it may be worth sitting down with a qualified financial adviser or perhaps a divorce lawyer.

If you have yet to determine the optimal Social Security claiming strategy for you, check out “Maximize Your Social Security.”

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Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More

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