In the old days, widows were forced to live with their companions rather than get married, because if they married, they would lose their survivor Social Security benefits. But under current law, women can keep their widow’s benefits at long as they are at least 60 years old when they remarry. But marriage still has an effect on how much Social Security you receive.
Take the case of Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. Bob and Carol were married for 14 years. They are now getting divorced. When Bob reaches 65, he will receive $750 per month in Social Security, based on his earnings.
At age 65, Carol is entitled to receive $250 per month in Social Security, based on her earnings. But since she was married to Bob for more than 10 years before they divorced, Carol can receive an amount equal to half of Bob’s benefit, $375 a month. This has no effect on Bob’s monthly check. Since $375 is greater than $250, Carol will receive benefits based on Bob’s earnings. (If Carol’s earned benefits were $450 per month, she would likely choose to receive benefits based on her own earnings. Sorry, she can’t have both.)
If Bob later marries Alice and they divorce after 10 years, Alice also would be entitled to receive $375 per month based on Bob’s earnings.? (No matter how many women he marries, Bob still gets his $750 per month.)
If Carol remarries a man we’ll call Ted, now Bob is out of the picture, and so are his Social Security benefits. Carol will be entitled to collect spousal benefits based on Ted’s earnings history, not Bob’s. But if Carol divorces Ted after being married to him for at least 10 years, guess what? She will be able to receive benefits based on the earning histories of either Bob or Ted or her own account, whichever is highest.
If Bob dies before Carol marries Ted, Carol will be entitled to widow’s benefits, which approximate Bob’s full Social Security benefit, as long as she doesn’t remarry before age 60. How much will she get? She will get Bob’s full benefit at age 65, but she can opt to collect as early as age 60 if she will settle for less.
And if Alice is still married to Bob when he dies, Alice will also receive full widow’s benefits. And you were wondering why Social Security may go broke in 2032!