Ask Kim


Social Security Benefits for Divorcées

Kimberly Lankford

If you remarry, you may lose your rights to claim benefits based on your former spouse's income.



Editor's Note: This story was updated with corrections on August 16, 2011.

My mom was married to my dad for 27 years before they divorced. She was a stay-at-home mom most of their marriage and didn’t return to work until after the divorce. She has since remarried. Someone told her that she is not eligible for Social Security retirement benefits based on my dad’s work record because she remarried before age 60. Is that true? Her current husband is not yet retired.

Although your mother would have qualified for Social Security retirement benefits based on your father’s earnings record because she was married to him for more than ten years, she lost that right when she remarried. She cannot collect benefits on your father's work record unless her current marriage ends in divorce, annulment or because of the death of her current husband. You may be confusing a different rule that applies to widows and widowers. They can collect Social Security benefits based on their late spouse's work record even if they remarry as long as they wait until at least age 60 to do so. In those cases, for example, a widow could choose to collect spousal benefits based on her former husband’s record or current husband’s, whichever was higher.

If your mother does not have enough credits on her own earnings record -- generally ten years of covered work -- she will have to wait until her current husband begins collecting retirement benefits to qualify for spousal benefits. Her benefits are worth half of his benefit amount, assuming she is at least 66, or normal retirement age, at the time.

For more tips on when to collect Social Security benefits, see Get a Bigger Check from Social Security or visit the Social Security website for details on retirement benefits if you are divorced.

Special thanks to my colleague Mary Beth Franklin for her help.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.



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