Q & A
Ask Rusty – Remarried Ex-Spouse
Dear Rusty: I was married to my husband for 6 years when we divorced in May of 1996. Over the next year or so we felt we had resolved our differences and decided to re-marry in July of 1997. Although we both tried hard, we simply couldn’t make it work and so we divorced again for good in September 2000. I’ve never re-married, but I’m now nearly 62 years of age and wondering: since my ex-husband always made much more money than me, can I collect Social Security as his divorced spouse or do I need to take Social Security based upon my own work record? Signed: Wondering
Dear Wondering: Social Security’s rules state that a divorcee who wants to collect retirement benefits from their ex-spouse’s work record must have been married to that person for at least 10 years, must be divorced for at least 2 years (unless your ex-spouse is already collecting benefits), must not now be married, and both the divorcee and their ex-spouse must be at least 62 years old. Your ex-spouse need not already be actually receiving benefits, but he must at least be eligible to receive either Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
Your situation is somewhat unique because you meet most of the criteria, but the total length of time you were actually married to your ex-spouse in your two marriages is only 9 years – 6 the first time and 3 the second time – leaving you apparently short of the 10-years-married rule. But here’s some good news: Social Security’s rules for divorced spouses also say that if you and your ex-spouse remarry before the end of the year which follows the year you were first divorced, the period of time between marriages counts toward the 10-years-married requirement. Since you first divorced in May of 1996 and then remarried in July of 1997, the time between those dates counts as though you were still married during that time, so the 10-years-married rule is satisfied. In other words, having met all of the criteria, you will be eligible to collect reduced benefits as a divorced spouse when you apply at age 62.
For information, the way Social Security will calculate the benefit you are entitled to will be to first determine what you’re entitled to on your own work record. Since you are also eligible for divorced spouse benefits, and if your own benefit is less than you are entitled to as a divorced spouse, you would be “deemed” to be filing for the divorced spouse benefit too, and your benefit amount will be raised (“boosted”) to that which you are entitled to on your ex-spouse’s record. When you apply, be sure to take with you proof of both marriages to, and divorces from, your ex-husband. And be aware that if you claim your benefit at age 62, it will be permanently reduced for the rest of your life.