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How much do you know about divorce and Social Security benefits?

Recently released studies have shown how the number of so-called gray divorces -- meaning those involving baby boomer couples -- are now on the rise thanks to fundamental shifts in our nation's longstanding social patterns.

While it's certainly heartening to see these older people work up the courage to exit an unhappy marriage, it's nevertheless extremely important for anyone planning this step to understand that they have unique financial considerations that must be accounted for in any divorce.

For example, boomer couples mulling a split will likely want to consider how it may affect their Social Security benefits.

While it may come as a surprise to some, people can secure Social Security benefits based on the work history of their ex, provided that the following conditions are satisfied:

  • The ex-spouse must be eligible for Social Security benefits.
  • The spouse seeking to secure the Social Security benefits must be at least 62 years old and unmarried with their eligibility for benefits based on their own work history amounting to less than that of their ex.
  • The marriage must have lasted for a minimum of 10 years.

This last condition is especially important for boomers to consider, as failure to satisfy it could potentially cost them thousands of dollars.

By way of illustration, consider an older spouse officially ending a second or third marriage -- a fairly common phenomenon -- just three weeks shy of the 10-year mark. Here, the older spouse might not realize that if they had just waited a few weeks longer, they would have been able to secure a monthly retirement benefit in excess of $1,000.

What all of this serves to underscore is that older couples mulling divorce should strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can not only help them account for all considerations as they relate to Social Security, but also answer their questions, explain the law and protect their best interests.

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

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