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Sometimes Trying to Maximize Will Minimize Your Social Security I thought I was done, at least for a while, writing columns about Social Security maximizing strategies. But as I've pointed out in past columns, probably 80 percent of the emails I get from my readers have to do with this topic de jour of the baby …Read more. Benefit Checks Are Accurate Q: I am 82 years old. My husband is 85. Based on a recent column you wrote about wives getting benefits from their husband's account, I think I am due more money from Social Security. How do I go about getting what is rightfully mine? A: I probably …Read more. Clarifying Widow's Benefits Q: In past columns, you have said that if a woman is 66 or older when her husband dies, her widow's benefit will equal what the husband was getting at the time of death. But when my husband died several months ago, I started getting slightly more …Read more. Full Retirement Age Going Up Q: You keep saying the full retirement age is 66. But as you know, many of us have to wait longer to get full Social Security benefits. For example, I was born in 1955 and I have to be 66 and 2 months. What I want to know is this: If I want to take …Read more.
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Ten-Year Marriage Rule Applies Only to Divorcees


Q: Whenever you answer questions from women about their eligibility for benefits from their husband's Social Security account, you always fail to mention that they must be married for at least 10 years to qualify for spousal benefits. I know this for a fact because it applied to me when I tried to get my ex-husband's Social Security. Will you please start providing this information?

A: No, I won't start providing that information because it's wrong. The 10-year duration of marriage rule applies only to divorced women. In other words, in order to collect benefits as a divorced spouse on your ex-husband's Social Security account, the law says your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years.

But if a woman is currently married to her husband, the rules generally say they must have been married for only a year or more. In the case of a widow (who was not divorced), the duration of marriage rule is usually nine months.

Q: I am 67 and getting Social Security. My wife is about to turn 62. Can she take wife's benefits on my record at age 62 and then switch to full benefits on her own record at 66?

A: No, she can't do that. The rules say (with one exception, which I'll explain in a minute) that if you apply for any kind of Social Security benefit before age 66, you must apply for all benefits you're eligible for at the same time. So when your wife turns 62, she'll have to file for her own Social Security retirement benefits. And if that benefit is low enough, it could be supplemented with a spousal benefit to take her total benefits up to an amount equal to about one-third of your Social Security rate.

And please note that I'm talking about someone applying for reduced benefits before age 66. If your wife waits until age 66 to file for Social Security, then she can restrict her application to one benefit or another. For example, she could file for benefits as a wife on your record at age 66, and then at age 70, switch to higher retirement benefits on her own record.

And about that exception I mentioned: it applies to widows.

And I don't think you want your wife to be a widow! But just so you know, widows can make a switch from one benefit to another — even if one benefit is started before age 66. In other words, she can take reduced retirement benefits on her own record at age 62 and then switch to full widow's benefits at 66. Or the other way around: She can take reduced widow's benefits at 62 (or even as early as age 60) and switch to full retirement at 66.

Q: In recent columns, you've answered questions from people getting SSI who are about to inherit large sums of money. You essentially told them that the money will force them off of SSI. But you should have explained that they could set up a "special needs trust" and be able to keep their SSI. They should consult a lawyer to do this.

A: To help my other readers understand what we are talking about, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal welfare program that the Social Security Administration manages for the government. It pays a relatively small monthly benefit to people over 65 who are poor as well as to disabled people with limited means. And like any welfare program, a person's income and assets have to be under certain limits to qualify. (Those limits vary from state to state, which is why I can't give specific dollar amounts.) Because it's a welfare program, someone who inherits a lot of money would generally no longer be eligible for SSI.

When I worked for the Social Security Administration, I was never an SSI counselor. So, I don't know a lot about the program. But I do remember hearing the SSI representatives talking to people about setting up a "special needs trust." It's the kind of deal where a person on SSI who comes into some money can have another person essentially manage those assets, and the SSI beneficiary has only limited access to its funds — and thus remains on SSI.

With thanks to this alert reader, my message to folks on SSI who inherit, or otherwise get their hands on some money, is to make an appointment with an SSI representative at their local Social Security office and go over their options, including the special needs trust.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



11 Comments | Post Comment
Could you please tell me if the Ten-year marriage rule applies to Federal Employees as well? My ex-husband worked at a Federal Prison, we were married alittle over ten years and then divorced. Would I be eligible for this under Federal Social Security? I cannot get an answer from anyone, so I am hoping you can help me out.
Thank you,
Comment: #1
Posted by: Robin Charles
Tue Mar 1, 2011 11:06 AM
Q: My mother in law has been married for 9 years. She filled out divorce papers about 5 years ago in Florida however they reconsidered and did not file. She just found out that her husband filed the previously signed papers she signed 5 years ago last week. She was previously married for about 3 years however that did not work out. If the divorce does through she will have been married for less than 10 years. Does this mean she does not qualify for any benefits. She is not yet a US citizen however in the process and she is will be 61 in April 2011. Does she lose the benefits because they did not reach 10 years?
Comment: #2
Posted by: Paola Cedeno
Sat Mar 19, 2011 8:39 AM
I am in the process of applying for social security disability. I was married over 9years but just a few months shy of 10years. My question is can I benefit from my ex-spouse for disability social security even tho I was married less than 10 years?
Comment: #3
Posted by: Mary- Jane Estey
Mon Jan 21, 2013 2:47 PM
I was married 12 years, how can I check to see if I am entitled to more social security. I did get divorced after the 12yrs
Comment: #4
Posted by: Joan L. Palmer
Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:04 PM
I AM 52 years old married to a soon to be 70 year old man. I was always told that I had to be married to him ten years in order to draw on his ssi even if we did not divorce and he died before 10 years. Then I read that the ten years only applies to divorced people. Which is true?
Comment: #5
Posted by: Debra Drum
Fri Apr 5, 2013 7:39 AM
If I marry a man thats been married twice before, the firat time for 23 years the second for 10 years, and he dies after I am married to him, Am i the receiver of his ssi benefits?
Comment: #6
Posted by: Debbie Wilson
Wed Jul 31, 2013 2:09 PM
I was married on 9/18/1993 and our divorce was finalized in court on 6/5/2003. I was only 3.5 months shy of 10 years being married do I receive Social Security benefits from my ex-husband or do I lose out? Technically I was married almost 10 years if your consider the years 1993-2003?
Comment: #7
Posted by: Jean Row
Wed May 28, 2014 9:29 AM
Re: Jean Row

did you ever get an answer for being married for 9 years?
Comment: #8
Posted by: barbara s
Fri Jun 6, 2014 2:56 PM
Re: Jean Row
Dear Jean I have the same situation as you. I was married 2 months less than 10 years. Why should a person married for 9 months be entitled to widows benefits when we were married with children short 2 months 10 years. I am hoping to find something on the books that apply to us. Please let me know if you have made any progress.

Comment: #9
Posted by: barbara s
Fri Jun 6, 2014 3:01 PM
yes I was married for over ten years, then divorced him and I remarried the same person two years ago. can I still receive his social society at 55?
Comment: #10
Posted by: julie murphy
Tue Jul 29, 2014 1:41 PM
My ex filed our divorce papers one day before we were married ten yrs..I did not have a lawyer and signed not even thinking of s.s. since I was 36 @ the time...Is there a way to change this by one day if ex is willing to sign papers??
Comment: #11
Posted by: janet dare
Tue Feb 17, 2015 2:05 PM
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