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How divorce affects Social Security benefits

A divorce can impact the best-laid retirement plans. Savings accumulated over the years to fund the retirement of a Connecticut couple often become a point of contention in a high asset divorce, and it may become critical for a divorced retiree to maximize his or her Social Security benefits.

Social Security benefits are generally available to divorced spouses based on their former spouses' work records as long as certain requirements are met. Specifically, the divorced spouse must be age 62 or over, currently unmarried and ineligible for a higher benefit based on his or her own work record. Additionally, the couple must have been married for 10 or more years and divorced for at least two years. The former spouse must be age 62 or older and eligible to receive benefits.

The divorced spouse can receive 50 percent of the ex-spouse's Social Security benefit, or a lesser amount if commencing benefits before reaching full retirement age. If the divorced spouse qualifies for benefits based on his or her own work history, the amount received will be the larger of the two benefits. If someone has been divorced twice and both marriages lasted for at least 10 years, the divorced spousal benefit will be based on the former spouse with the largest benefit.

A strategy available to a divorced spouse who has reached full retirement age and is still working is to file a restricted application for benefits. He or she may then collect the divorced spousal benefit at 50 percent of the ex-spouse's benefit. Then, upon reaching age 70, he or she can switch to his or her own benefit, which will be 32 percent more than it would have been at full retirement age. Other strategies exist for divorced widows and widowers. A family law attorney may be able to help a divorced spouse understand all the available options.

Source: Huffingtin Post, "How divorce can affect your social security", Jim T. Miller, November 11, 2013

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