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Understanding Social Security

Aug. 20, 2022, 12:30 p.m. EDT

I divorced and remarried the same person. How does that impact our Social Security benefits?

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By Jim Blankenship

I remarried the same spouse in Pennsylvania. We were first married in 2001. We divorced but then remarried in 2006. How do I assess this for Social Security questionnaire?

By “questionnaire” I assume you mean an application for Social Security benefits, and given the information that you’ve provided, it should be very straightforward.

With regard to your two marriages to the same individual: Your earlier marriage likely has no impact on your Social Security benefits at this point. The only way it might be a factor is if the time between your divorce and remarriage was less than 12 months. In that case, your two marriage lengths are added together (not counting the time between divorce and remarriage). If more than 12 months passed between the divorce finalization and the 2006 remarriage, then only the 2006 marriage will apply to your situation at present.

You didn’t say, so I’ll assume that you are still married after the 2006 remarriage. If this is the case, the only reference that you need to make on the Social Security benefit application is that you are currently married, and identify your spouse by name and Social Security number.

However, if you divorced a second time from this individual, then the tenure of the marriage that occurred in 2006 to the divorce is pertinent (plus the earlier marriage as explained above if it applies). If the length of the marriage was at least 10 years total and you are currently unmarried, then you could be eligible for spousal benefits based on this ex-spouse. The “currently unmarried” factor  applies only to the divorcee . If the couple is still married, of course spousal benefits are available if otherwise eligible.

Taking this a bit further, if the spouse that you married in 2001 and again in 2006 is now deceased, and if you were still married to this individual at the time of his or her death, you would likely be eligible for survivor benefits based on the late individual’s record. Again, the earlier (2001) marriage would not be a factor in this circumstance.

The same is true if you were married to this individual for at least 10 years (as calculated above) and then divorced, and now the individual has subsequently died.

The other limiting factor for the survivor benefit scenario is that you must not be party to a current marriage that began before your 60th birthday. You could have remarried before your 60th and then either divorce or death made you unmarried after that date, but any current, ongoing marriage that began before your 60th birthday will eliminate your ability to collect survivor benefits on this earlier (late) spouse. For more on how this works, see my earlier article about how  Social Security’s weird remarriage rule can cost you a lot of money .

The bottom line is that the 2001 marriage only matters if it is necessary to tally up 10 years of marriage (in the case of a later divorce of this same couple). Otherwise, this earlier marriage won’t be a factor for your application at all.

Have a question about Social Security? Write us at HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com and we may use your letter in a future column.

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