Social Security has a divorce-remarry loophole

Q: I was married almost 13 years to my previous husband. He claimed Social Security when he turned 62 and then passed away seven months later in 2012. Shortly after that, I remarried. If I divorce my husband when I am 59, claim my late husband's Social Security at 60 and then remarry my husband after that, will that work? Is there another way, since my current husband is not thrilled? How do I go about the paperwork? Am I being ridiculous? I am currently 52. My current husband will take his Social Security next December when he turns 62. — Teresa Wheeler, Shoreacres, Texas

A: Technically, your plan will work, says Andy Landis, author of Social Security: The Inside Story, 2016 Edition. “As you know, you are ineligible to get surviving divorced spouse benefits because of your remarriage,” he says. “The exception is if you remarry after you turn 60.”

One reference can be found on the Social Security Administration (SSA) website, Survivors Planner: If You're The Worker's Surviving Divorced Spouse.

As for the question of a time frame for divorce, then remarriage, Landis reports that the SSA’s Program Operations Manual System simply says that you must be "unmarried … or have remarried but the marriage can be disregarded.”Read Widow(er)'s Benefits Definitions and Requirements. Also read How Remarriage Affects Widow(er)'s Benefits, which explains that a remarriage can be disregarded if it occurred “after attainment of age 60.”

“The bottom line is that it appears your plan will work,” says Landis, who is quick to add a note of caution. “Be sure your divorce is final before you remarry, or SSA might consider it the same marriage.”

Note, too, that there are many related issues, says Landis: One, before your full retirement age (67 in your case), your payments would be reduced because of age, and work income could further reduce your payments. And two, before or after FRA, taking your own Social Security could reduce or eliminate your widow’s payments. And three, run your plan past a Social Security Claims Representative before you commit.

For a case similar to yours, read Landis’ blog.

Robert Powell is editor of Retirement Weekly, contributes regularly to USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch. Got questions about money? Email rpowell@allthingsretirement.com.

USA TODAY


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