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If you are getting divorced, you may be wondering how your future social security retirement benefits may be impacted by your divorce (especially if you are over 50). Since these benefits are based on the total amount of money you’ve earned in your lifetime, you may have a legitimate concern if you have earned less than your husband and/or you have not been in the workforce for as many years. The availability of these social security benefits could have a significant impact on your post-retirement lifestyle.

You should consult with one of our Divorce Financial Strategists™ to get advice about your specific situation, but here are some general rules to keep in mind.

The most important rule is that if your marriage lasted 10 years or more, the lower earning spouse (you) could be eligible for social security retirement benefits based on the record of your husband – the higher earning spouse. (FYI – Nationally, all marriages ending in divorce last an average of 9.8 years. That means a lot of women might be ineligible to collect social security retirement benefits based on their husband’s higher earnings because they failed to wait a few extra months until their marriage crossed the 10-year mark!)

In addition, there are four key qualifications you must meet to collect social security retirement benefits based on your ex-husband’s earnings:

• You must not have remarried

• You must be 62 or older

• The benefit you would collect is higher than what you would have collected based on your own earnings history

• Your ex-husband must be entitled to social security on his own

The maximum amount of your benefit would be the higher of your own work record or 50% of what your ex-husband’s benefit would be at your full retirement age. You can start taking the benefit at age 62, but any benefit amount you take before your full retirement age will be less than the full 50% of your ex-husband’s benefit. So, the bottom line is that, if possible, you should wait until your full retirement age before collecting.

It is important to note that the benefits you might collect using your ex-husband’s earnings does not in any way reduce the benefits that he will receive.

If you do remarry, you cannot collect on your ex-husband’s earnings unless your second marriage ends by death, divorce or annulment. However, if your second marriage also ends in divorce and the second marriage was also longer than 10 years, your benefit would be the larger of 1) the amount based on your own work record, b) 50% of your first ex-husband’s entitlement, or 3) 50% of your second ex-husband’s entitlement. In this case you get to choose and most choose the largest amount.

One other thing to keep in mind – if your ex-husband is not yet receiving his retirement benefits but does qualify, you must have been divorced from him for at least two years before you can begin collecting benefits based on his earnings.

If your ex-husband dies you are still able to receive retirement benefits based on his earnings. And, you do not give up the right to base your retirement benefits on your own earnings by doing this. This is important to keep in mind if you later remarry and make more than your second husband.

If you are going through a divorce or considering it, this is just one of the many financial issues you must sort through to plan for your retirement years. I recommend that you work with one of our Divorce Financial Strategists™ to make sure that the financial decisions you make during your divorce will enable you to maintain your lifestyle both today and far into the future.

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