June 24, 2015 | by Chris Stein, CFP®, Finance Instructor at Colorado State University
Divorced, Remarried and Divorced Again

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We recently were sent the following question…

“I was married to my first husband for 12 years before I divorced him when I was 45.  I remarried when I was 50, but unfortunately that marriage ended last year when I was 61.  Am I able to collect any spousal benefits from either of them?  My first husband made a lot more money than my second and I am worried that I will only be able to collect off my second spouse.  BTW, I believe my first husband has failing health and may not be alive much longer.”

So what are the Social Security claiming options if you are divorced, remarried and divorced again? Well… you actually have quite a few options in this situation.

  1. You can claim your own benefit starting as early as age 62 if you have earned at least 40 credits in the SS system. Your question does not indicate whether or not you have your own benefit, but I wanted to make this one option #1 if it applies.  As a reminder, if you choose to file at 62 for this benefit you will permanently reduce your benefit since you are filing prior to your FRA (full retirement age) of 66.
  1. Since you were married to your first husband for at least 10 years and have been divorced at least 2 years you actually qualify for a spousal benefit on his record even though you married someone else in the interim. If you were still married to husband #2 you would not qualify for this option, but now that you are divorced again it opens the door to file on husband #1’s record.  Once again if you file prior to your FRA you will permanently reduce this benefit.
  1. You may qualify to file a spousal benefit on husband #2’s record if he has filed for his own benefit. You mention you divorced him last year.  The rule for claiming a spousal benefit after divorce says you either must be divorced for 2 years OR your ex has filed for their own benefit.  You obviously passed this test with husband #1, but may be limited with husband #2 for another year unless he has filed himself.  This may be a non-issue, however since you mentioned husband #2 had far lower earnings than husband #1.
  1. You mention that husband #1 may not survive much longer. I am sorry to hear he is in bad health.  If he does end up passing away the door will open for a 4th option, which is to file for survivor benefits.  Starting as early as your age 60 (age 50 if you are disabled) you can file for survivor benefits if an ex-spouse passes away and you qualify under the 10 year marriage requirement.  The survivor benefit is much larger than the spousal benefit (it is based on his full retirement benefit, not half as is the case with spousal benefits).  Once again if you file prior to age 66 you will reduce this benefit, but survivor benefits are a stand alone benefit that will not affect your future ability to switch to a full unreduced retirement benefit of your own, should it end up benefitting you later.  Also, since you are over age 60 any subsequent re-marriage will not affect this survivor benefit.  It would cause you to lose any spousal benefit from husbands #1 or #2, but survivor benefits can continue even after re-marriage as long as you re-marry after age 60.

Your best course of action at this time would be to make an appointment at the Social Security office and take them proof of your marriages and divorces along with the SS numbers of your ex-spouses.  They can then advise you as to exactly what your benefit will be under your own or either of the other two work records.  Once you have those numbers in hand it will be easier to decide what strategy may be appropriate, and since you have so many options I would encourage you to seek a Social Security optimization report, whether it be with us or someone else who can consider all your options and recommend the best solution for your individual situation.

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