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Exception to the Divorced Spouse Remarriage Rule

remarriedGenerally speaking, when a divorcee is receiving a Social Security spousal benefit based on an ex-spouse’s record, the recipient must remain unmarried in order to continue receiving the ex-spouse benefit. (For more details on this, see Coordinating Social Security Benefits in Matters of Divorce and Remarriage.) In many cases,when a divorcee remarries, the spousal benefit based on his or her ex-spouse’s record will end.

However, there is an exception to this rule that I recently became aware of. It’s in part because the circumstances surrounding this exception have recently become more common – so let’s get to the exception.

The Exception

If the person who is receiving a spousal benefit based on an ex-spouse’s record marries someone who is currently receiving widow(er)’s, mother’s, father’s, divorced spouse’s, or parents’ benefits, the spousal benefit will continue. That’s a mouthful! Let’s play out an example:

Jane is divorced from Gerald. Jane has been receiving spousal benefits based on Gerald’s record for the past couple of years. Jane is engaged to marry Sheryl.  Sheryl’s husband Ed died several years ago, and she has been collecting a widow’s benefit (survivor benefit) based on Ed’s record for a couple of years now.

Since Sheryl is receiving the survivor benefit based on Ed’s record, the exception applies for Jane’s ex-spouse benefit, and Jane will be eligible to continue receiving this benefit after the marriage. If Sheryl was not currently collecting the survivor’s benefit (or one of the other excepted benefits), Jane’s ex-spouse benefit would end upon their marriage.

One important factor here is that Jane and Sheryl are both currently receiving the benefits (in Social Security parlance, they are entitled to the benefits). If Jane is not currently receiving the ex-spouse benefit when she and Sheryl get married, she would not be allowed to begin receiving the ex-spouse benefit based on Gerald’s record while she and Sheryl are married.

Likewise, if Sheryl was not receiving the survivor benefit or one of the other excepted benefits on the date of the marriage, Jane’s ex-spouse benefit would end upon their marriage.

4 Comments

  1. Cindy ClardyNo Gravatar says:

    Is there any minimum length of time either of the two divorced people considering remarriage must be drawing divorced ex-spousal benefits before they can continue to receive them? In our case, each person was married more than 10 years and divorced more than two years. Both are currently 65. One is still working while the other is retired. The working partner plans to file for divorced ex-spousal benefits when she turns 66 in January 2016. The retiree plans to file for divorced ex-spousal benefits at age 66 in May 2016. How soon after retiree begins receiving divorced ex-spousal benefits could this couple marry without either losing divorced ex-spousal benefits? After 3 payments? Sooner? Longer? Both plan to wait until age 70 to begin taking their own 32% each retirement benefits. But we also thought we’d have the postpone legal marriage until June 2020 after both turn 70 to marry. This article makes it sound like we could plan wedding bells sooner even though we’d get hit with an income tax marriage penalty. The retiree has been using the low income years to do Roth conversions. Could the rules change between 66 and 70?

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      Cindy –

      To the best of my knowledge there is no minimum amount of time that the two of you must be receiving benefits, just that you must both be receiving them in order to continue receiving them after marriage. I suggest that you ask for a determination from SSA on your specific case in order to make sure that nothing is left to chance.

      jb

      1. Cindy ClardyNo Gravatar says:

        Has anyone successfully done this before? Not sure we want to be the guinea pig test case.

        1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

          As I wrote before:

          Although I do not know specific individuals who have used this exception it is far more than a theory – it is written into the operations manual for Social Security staff – POMS RS 00202.045.

          jb

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