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Navigating Social Security matters during divorce

If you are nearing retirement or have already reached the age of retirement, you may have questions about how your Social Security benefits will be impacted by your divorce. This is a complex question and the answer to it is dependent on a variety of circumstances. Therefore, it is generally a good idea to speak to your attorney about your concerns in order to get a solid picture of how your Social Security benefits will be treated both during and in the wake of your divorce.

However, there are a few broad rules that generally apply to most couples nearing or at the age of retirement. Even before speaking with your attorney, you can begin to assess your situation according to these broad rules, understanding that exceptions may apply.

For example, if your marriage has lasted a minimum of 10 years, you or your spouse may be entitled to Social Security benefits based on the work record of whomever remained in the workforce during your marriage. This general rule tends to apply even if the breadwinner remarries. If your marriage withstood certain tests of time, the Social Security Administration tends to protect spousal rights to receive certain Social Security benefits.

It is worth noting however, that if the beneficiary of the spousal entitlement remarries, he or she cannot collect Social Security benefits based on a former spouse’s work record unless the subsequent marriage ends as well.

Finally, you must be 62-years-old or older in order to receive benefits based on a former spouse’s work record. And if you or your spouse is trying to collect based on the other’s work record, the record of the person seeking to collect must result in a lower entitlement than the other person’s work record.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Social Security and Divorce: Can You Collect Benefits on Your Ex's Earnings Record?” Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Sep. 10, 2014

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