The Social Security Administration reports that more than half of married couples and almost three-quarters of single retirees get at least half of their income from the program in retirement.
Social Security provides many divorced spouses with the same benefits they'd be entitled to receive if they remained married. Specifically, if you were married for at least 10 years, then you can claim spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse's work history. This is the case, even if your ex re-marries; and your benefits are not diminished if your ex's new spouse also claims benefits.
However, if you remarry, then you become entitled to take spousal benefits based on your new spouse's work history after a short waiting period, and you lose the ability to claim benefits based on your ex-spouse's work record. If your ex-had a higher income than your new spouse, then your benefits could be reduced accordingly.
For Surviving Spouses, Social Security Is More Complicated
If your spouse dies, then you'll be entitled to receive survivors benefits. Those benefits typically equal your spouse's retirement benefit, which is usually substantially higher than spousal benefits.
Like those who've divorced and whose ex-spouse is still living, widows and widowers face some potential pitfalls if they remarry. But with surviving spouses, Social Security's rules are more complex and seem almost arbitrary.
For most surviving spouses, if you haven't yet reached age 60 and get remarried, then you will not be entitled to survivors benefits based on your deceased former spouse's work history. Instead, you'll have to claim spousal benefits from your new spouse and potentially get survivors benefits on your new spouse's work history in the future.
Rules Change for Older People
But if you're 60 or older, Social Security treats you differently. Even if you remarry, you're still entitled to survivors benefits on your deceased former spouse's work record. Again, you're not allowed to double-dip, as you'll only be entitled to additional benefits if they exceed what you're getting as a surviving spouse. Nevertheless, the rationale for putting people younger than 60 in jeopardy of losing benefits while those 60 or older face no such worries isn't entirely clear.
As if that weren't enough, you can sometimes get back benefits even if you initially lost them. If a second marriage also ends in death or divorce, then you may be able to claim benefits based on your first spouse's work history.
Understanding the intricacies of Social Security as a spouse can be tough. But given the potential for problems, if you don't consider the financial implications of marital decisions, it's important to get a handle on the rules so you can make an informed choice.
Contact Our Schaumburg Law Office
If you are contemplating a divorce, involved in one, or involved in post-decree proceedings, the changes in the law need to be addressed immediately in your matter. Contact Robert M. Kaplan and we will be happy to discuss your situation with you and render you the legal assistance you require.