Close Close
ThinkAdvisor

Retirement Planning > Social Security > Claiming Strategies

Social Security Claiming and the Divorced Spouse, Part 2: Remarriage

X
Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.

What You Need to Know

  • Welcome to the fifth installment of Connecting the Dots, the column where Marcia Mantell discusses real-life decisions around Social Security claiming and retirement.
  • A spouse always holds onto their own SS benefits, even if they remarry.
  • If a wife survives both her ex and her current spouse, she can claim whichever survivor benefit is higher.

You met “Tammy” in the September “Connecting the Dots” column. She’s an ex-wife whose financial life was turned upside down when her husband of 32 years left her high and dry after she retired. She wrote to me about her situation, asking how she might get a higher Social Security benefit.

What happens if Tammy remarries?

Rumors and misinformation abound when it comes to Social Security. One of the questions Tammy asked was:

I have been told that since I started to collect Social Security at 62, I cannot remarry and still receive my payment each month. I would like to remarry, but we would need my Social Security. Why doesn’t the man lose his check when he remarries?

There’s quite a bit to unpack with her questions.

When do Social Security benefits stop after remarriage?

It’s correct that benefits stop if a divorced person remarries. But that’s not the whole story.

Remarriage causes an ex-spouse to lose their benefit — but only if it is based on the other ex’s work record. This rule applies whether it’s the ex-wife or the ex-husband who remarries. Social Security is gender agnostic with these rules.

Connecting the dots in Tammy’s case, we need to understand that the benefit she currently receives ($850 per month, reduced from her $1,130 full benefit for claiming early) is based on her own individual work history. No one loses their own benefit when they remarry.

If she were collecting an ex-spousal benefit based on her ex-husband’s work history (as a dependent ex-spouse), she would forfeit that benefit upon remarriage. In this case, Tammy can indeed remarry and keep her own Social Security benefit.

Can Tammy collect more in Social Security benefits after remarriage?

Perhaps, but not on her ex-husband. Once she’s married for 12 months to her new husband, Tammy will be eligible for any spousal top-up benefits on his record.

More on this topic

Let’s say her new husband’s primary insurance amount (PIA) is $2,800 per month. The maximum spousal benefit is 50% of his PIA, or $1,400 per month.

In Tammy’s case, her top-up is calculated as follows: $1,400 (maximum spousal benefit) — $1,130 (her own PIA) = $270. Because she’s past her full retirement age (FRA), she would get the full top-up amount of $270 added to her existing reduced benefit. Therefore, her new benefit amount after remarriage would be about $1,120 ($850 + $270).

Her exact payment amount will be based on her new husband’s actual PIA and cost-of-living increases over the years.

Can Tammy ever collect anything on her first husband’s record?

Tammy’s last question was about getting more on her ex’s work history. She wrote, “His benefits should be quite large since he’s had good-paying jobs since he was 24 years old. Can’t I collect a better rate off him?”

The only way to get a top-up on an ex-spouse is to remain unmarried. If she does not remarry, when her ex reaches 62, she could then ask Social Security for a recalculation of her benefits and get any applicable ex-spousal top-up.

However, Tammy may eventually “step into his shoes” and collect his benefit if she becomes the only surviving spouse. If she does not remarry, and her ex dies first, and he was receiving more than her $850 per month, she can claim as a surviving ex-spouse. Whatever amount he was receiving will become her survivor benefit.

If she remarries, as it sounds like she prefers, and both her new husband and her ex die before she does, she will receive one benefit. It will be the higher benefit between the two men. It may be that her ex was collecting $2,950 per month and her second husband was getting $2,800. In that case, her survivor benefit would in fact be based on her ex’s benefit.

Remember, it’s a good idea for advisors to ask their clients what they’ve heard about how Social Security works. Often, any “facts” from friends and family are fraught with incorrect, misinformed and even outrageous information. Set the rules straight before clients miss opportunities or make irrevocable mistakes.


Marcia Mantell is the founder and president of Mantell Retirement Consulting, Inc., a retirement business development, marketing & communications and education company supporting the financial services industry, advisors and their clients. She is author of “What’s the Deal with Retirement Planning for Women?,” “What’s the Deal with Social Security for Women?” and blogs at BoomerRetirementBriefs.com.