Q. I would like more information on my social security benefits in divorce if I remarry.

A divorced person may receive social security benefits in one of two ways: (1) upon retirement based upon that spouse's own contribution to the Social Security system or (2) as the spouse of a contributor, so long as the marriage was not dissolved before the end of ten years and the divorced spouse has not remarried (so-called "derivative benefits"). Persons entitled to either set of benefits receive the higher amount. Derivative benefits do not come out of the contributing spouse's pocket.

Derivative benefits depend upon the former spouse's eligibility for benefits (whether or not they receive them yet), which requires that the other spouse is at least 62 years of age and fully insured (having contributed to Social Security for 40 quarters and thus qualifying for full benefits). This fact is important for dependent spouses who are older than the contributing spouse. In order to receive benefits, the dependent spouse must be at least 62 years of age and unmarried.

In the dependent spouse does remarry, he or she becomes ineligible for derivative benefits from a former spouse. If he or she divorces again, they become eligible for derivative benefits again, including the new marriage so long as the marriage lasted for 10 years. In situations of multiple 10 year marriages, the dependent spouse is entitled to the highest benefits of a former contributing spouse. Qualifying remarriages include a legal marriage, common law marriages where recognized, and "deemed marriages" - where a person in good faith went through a marriage ceremony but the marriage somehow did not qualify as a legal marriage under the laws of a particular state.

Need more information about how divorce affects Social Security benefits?

T. Wesley Arnold III