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I married and divorced the same person twice. Can I collect ex-spousal benefits if the marriages lasted more than 10 years total?

It's possible. Social Security does require that two people be married for at least 10 years for one to collect ex-spousal benefits on the other's earnings record. But they don't necessarily have to be married for 10 years continuously. It depends on when the first divorce and the second wedding occur.

Under Social Security rules, you meet the length-of-marriage test if your divorce became final on or after the 10th anniversary of the marriage. This is true even if a prior divorce interrupted this period, provided the remarriage took place no later than the calendar year immediately following the year of the divorce.

However, if the remarriage took place in the second calendar year after the divorce or later, the periods of marriage cannot be counted together to meet the 10-year requirement. Basically, Social Security requires that the marriage be in existence in each of 10 or more consecutive years for one partner to claim ex-spouse benefits.

For example:

1. John and Mary were married twice, the first time for seven years and the second time for five years. Their first divorce was finalized in 2013, they remarried in 2014 and they divorced again in 2019.

The two marriages can be combined to meet the 10-year rule, and John can claim ex-spouse benefits on Mary's record.

2. Peter and Ann also had a seven-year marriage that ended in 2013. They remarried in 2015 but divorced five years later.

Ann cannot claim benefits on Peter's record because the remarriage took place in the second calendar year after the first divorce.

3. Robert and Susan got hitched in January 2010 and divorced in May 2016. They remarried in September 2017, but divorced again in February 2020.

Although they were legally married to each other for only 8 years and 9 months, they were married during each of the 10 years from 2010 to 2020, and more than 10 years passed between their first marriage and second divorce. They can claim ex-spouse benefits.

Keep in mind

  • If you married and divorced the same person twice and one of those marriages lasted at least 10 years, the question is moot. You can claim ex-spousal benefits, assuming you meet the other eligibility criteria.
  • If you are married to someone else, you probably can't collect benefits on a living former spouse's record, regardless of the length, timing and frequency of your previous union or unions.

Updated February 6, 2020

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