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How Remarriage Affects Widow(er)s and Ex-Spouses Differently

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The Social Security Administration has a special way to treat former spouses (ex-spouses) differently from widows and widowers with regard to benefits when the person in question remarries. This special rule only affects ex-Spouses while the other partner from the former marriage is still living. When the former spouse dies, the surviving spouse is treated effectively the same as a widow or widower.

Remarriage Rules for Widows and Widowers

(For brevity I’m going to refer only to widows, but everything applies as well to widowers.)

If a widow is under age 60 and remarries (and stays married), she is no longer eligible for her Survivor Benefit based upon her late husband’s record. After age 60, the widow can remarry and retain access to Survivor Benefits. This rule applies the same way for a widow who was divorced from the decedent, as long as she was married to the ex-spouse for at least ten years.

Remarriage Rules for Ex-Spouses

If a couple was married for at least 10 years and has been divorced for at least 2 years, an ex-spouse can be eligible for Spousal Benefits based upon her former husband’s record – as long as she remains unmarried. (As with other examples, the roles could be reversed.) Her ex-husband must be eligible for benefits (doesn’t have to be taking them) and she must be at least age 62 for early benefits. The same rules apply as if they were still married, except that he doesn’t have to apply for her to be eligible for the Spousal Benefit. If he does apply for benefits, the two-year waiting period is eliminated.

However – if she remarries at any time while he is still alive, she will become ineligible for the spousal benefit while married. If there is a subsequent divorce or the new spouse dies, her eligibility for Spousal Benefits from the earlier marriage is restored. If/When the first husband (or any earlier husband) dies, she becomes eligible for a Survivor’s Benefit as a Widow (see above for remarriage rules for Widows). She can choose the earlier husband (if she was married more than once) with the highest available benefit for her Spousal and/or Survivor benefit – as long as she met the eligibility (length of marriage) to that former spouse.

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