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How Divorce Impacts Social Security Benefits

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Are you headed for divorce? If you have been married for nearly 10 years, you may want to give some thought as to “when” you divorce, especially if your spouse earns significantly more money than you.

When couples decide to divorce, they need to take a lot of factors into account, such as the children’s summer break (may be a better time to file for divorce), the holidays, taxes, and for those selling their homes, the best time of year to sell a house.

Another matter to consider is how the length of a marriage affects Social Security benefits.

You may not be aware of it but divorced spouses can receive a spousal benefit so long as their marriage lasted 10 years. So, if you’re planning on divorcing near the 10-year mark, delaying the process a few months could mean thousands of more dollars of Social Security benefits on your spouse’s earnings record, providing they are more than your own.

When it comes to divorce, Social Security and retirement planning, you want to pay close attention to the details, especially if you’re divorcing in your ninth year of marriage.

Social Security Benefits for Divorced Spouses

According to the Social Security Administration, when a couple divorces, an ex-spouse can collect benefits based on their ex’s record, even if their ex remarries if:

  • Their marriage lasted at least 10 years
  • The person who wishes to collect is not married
  • The applicant is 62-years-of-age or older
  • The benefit the ex-spouse is entitled to on their own work record is less than the benefit on their ex’s record, and
  • The ex-spouse of the applicant is entitled to receive disability or Social Security retirement benefits.

For example, if an ex-husband (even if he is remarried) has not applied for retirement benefits, but he would qualify for them, his ex-wife is entitled to benefits on his work record as long as the pair have been divorced for at least two years.

In this scenario, if the ex-wife was eligible for retirement benefits on her own record, the SSA would pay her that amount first.

If the benefit on her ex-husband’s work record was more, she’d receive the additional amount on her record. This way, the total combination of benefits she receives equals the higher dollar amount.

Note: If you were born on January 2, 1954 or later, your option to take just one of the benefits at full retirement age no longer applies. If you decide to file for one benefit, you will be filing for all retirement or spousal benefits. Ask us about these recent changes.

Essentially, if a couple decides to divorce just shy of their 10-year anniversary, the timing of the divorce can deny one of the spouses – husband or wife – thousands of dollars in divorced spouse benefits.

If you are considering divorce or remarriage, you want a divorce attorney to explain all of the ramifications, including how Social Security could be impacted.

To learn more about divorce and how its timing impacts Social Security retirement benefits, contact Claery & Hammond, LLPfor a free case evaluation.


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