By Sandra W. Reed


Street wisdom has it that two can live more cheaply than one. But those married previously and receiving Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse’s earnings history, should put pencil to paper before taking new vows. It could make dollars and sense to choose other relationship arrangements. Not advocating cohabitation, per se. Just saying.


Spousal Social Security benefits if divorced


As a divorced person, you may take benefits based on an ex-spouse’s Social Security record if: (1) the marriage lasted at least 10 years; (2) you remain unmarried; (3) your ex-spouse is entitled to retirement or disability benefits and (4) the benefit based on your own work history is less than based on the ex-spouse’s. It doesn’t matter whether your "ex" has remarried or not. If your ex-spouse is entitled to retirement benefits but has not applied for them, you may still obtain benefits from his record if you have been divorced for at least two years. The benefit amount will be one-half that of your ex-spouse’s amount at full retirement if you start taking benefits at your full retirement age. If you begin benefits at age 62, the amount will be reduced.


Benefit of marriage could halt benefits of retirement


Benefits based on a former divorced spouse’s record cease when you remarry unless the new marriage ends, either by divorce or death. If you have a qualifying work record of your own, you can revert to receiving these lower benefits upon remarriage. However, if you have insufficient working quarters to qualify for Social Security benefits, Social Security benefits will stop completely when you remarry.


How spousal Social Security benefits work for widowed


A surviving spouse can obtain full Social Security survivor’s benefits based on the deceased’s work record when the survivor reaches full retirement age. The surviving spouse may begin receiving reduced benefits when he or she reaches age 60, if the marriage was of 10 years or more duration. A surviving spouse who becomes disabled before, or within seven years after, the spouse’s death may begin receiving benefits at age 50 based on the deceased’s record.


Generally, you will not be able to get Social Security benefits based on a deceased spouse’s work history if you remarry before age 60. If you remarry after you are 60, the remarriage will not deprive you of receiving benefits based on your deceased’s spouse’s record. You will also be able to receive benefits based on your new spouse’s record if your benefit would be higher.


A surviving spouse may begin getting survivor’s benefits at any age if the surviving spouse is taking care of a child of the deceased who is under the age of 16 or who is disabled. A surviving child of an insured parent will receive benefits until they are 18 or, up to age 19, as long as enrolled in a secondary school.


Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth, Texas. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain. She may be contacted by phone at (254) 797-0211 or by email at sreed@kattenbenson.com.