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Do you know enough about divorce and Social Security?

Anyone going through a divorce will need to address a multitude of items as far as property division is concerned from bank accounts, insurance and retirement accounts to real estate, business interests and household furnishings.

As it turns out, however, there is one item that is frequently overlooked by divorcing spouses during the tumult of the property division process: Social Security benefits.

While it's true that this might not be much of a concern for those divorcing couples who are in their 30s and 40s, it's a much different story for couples who are not too far removed from retirement.

Indeed, this becomes all the more significant when you consider our previous posts discussing how the number of "gray divorces" -- typically defined as those splits involving individuals age 50 or older -- are now on the rise in the U.S.

Am I eligible for Social Security benefits based on my former spouse's work history?

While people are indeed eligible for Social Security benefits based on their ex's work history, this eligibility hinges upon the satisfaction of certain criteria:

  • The couple must have been married for at least ten years.
  • The ex must actually be eligible for Social Security benefits.
  • The benefits-seeking spouse must be at least 62 and unmarried.
  • The amount of benefits the benefits-seeking spouse can claim based on their own work history must be less than the benefits they can claim based on their ex's work history.

How does all this factor into the conversation about divorce for older adults?

The most important consideration that older divorcing couples will want to keep in mind is the ten-year marriage requirement. For example, consider the example posed by a 63-year-old wife who is actively considering a divorce from her second husband just weeks before their ten-year wedding anniversary.

Here, if the wife decides to go ahead with the divorce as soon as possible, she could potentially cost herself thousands of dollars in monthly retirement benefits. Conversely, if she waits just a few weeks, this might not happen.  

We will continue to discuss this topic in a future post. In the meantime, consider consulting with a skilled legal professional if you are considering a divorce to learn all about your rights and your options.

Source: KSL.com, "What you should know about Social Security and divorce," Flint Stephens, Dec. 9, 2014 

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