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Can a divorce affect your Social Security benefits?

According to data provided by Dr. Phil, in 2003, 60 percent of marriages for couples between the ages of 20 and 25 ended in divorce. And although it’s ten years later, statistics haven’t changed much and researchers believe that many divorces happen during this time in a person’s life.

But what about people who decide to divorce later in life? Called a "grey divorce," dissolution of marriage tends to happen after age 50 and comes with it an entirely different set of circumstances. Unlike divorce at a younger age, grey divorces often entail more assets and trickier situations such as how to divide your spouse’s retirement fund. But along with the division of these assets also come the ones provided by the Social Security Administration and not handling this sooner can create huge problems later.

Let’s look at an example scenario to see what we mean:

Mary and her husband recently divorced and both are nearing retirement age. She has started looking into collecting Social Security benefits and has noticed that she can collect on her ex-husband’s benefits. But she needs to know how much he earned, information her ex-husband will not provide to her nor will SSA. Without this information she does not know how much money she should put away for retirement or when the optimal time is to retire for herself.

Although this situation is hypothetical in nature, the problems that can result from it are very real. Readers of our blog should know that SSA has particular requirements that must be met in order to collect benefits. One such stipulation is that a couple must have been married for at least 10 years and have been divorced for two or more years in order to collect divorcee spousal benefits. Also, the ex must be at least 62 years of age or older in order to begin collecting. Knowing this and if your spouse has filed are incredibly important pieces of information that can really help a person plan for their future, especially after a divorce.

Source: PBS News Hour, "How Social Security Keeps Divorcées and Widows in the Dark About Their Benefits," Larry Kotlikoff, Nov. 4, 2013