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Divorcing couples should not overlook Social Security benefits

There are many issues of primary importance when people are considering divorce. Others items, however, may seem unimportant or too far into the future to matter. Among the items that are often neglected in a divorce proceeding are Social Security benefits. However, ignoring the ramifications of divorce on Social Security claims can be a costly mistake.

The Social Security system can be very confusing. Still, there are some general rules for how divorce will affect Social Security.

Basically, those married for at least ten years are entitled to spousal benefits under the Social Security system. Spousal benefits amount to 50 percent of the full benefits that the wage earner is entitled to. This is true so long as the benefits are claimed at full retirement age. The amount is reduced if benefits are claimed earlier than the full retirement age.

The individual would be eligible to claim survivor benefits if the former spouse had died prior to benefits being claimed. Survivor benefits equal the full benefit that the deceased wage earner would have been entitled to.

These rules are true regardless of whether the spouses remarry after they have turned 60 years of age. If, however, a divorcing spouse remarries before the age of 60, the spousal benefits with respect to a previous spouse are lost. To make matters more confusing, spousal benefits are reinstated if there is a subsequent divorce before age 60. In essence, so long as an individual is single at the time they turn 60, they may claim Social Security benefits based on any former spouse to whom they had been married to for 10 years.

Considering that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce and 72 percent of unmarried retirees rely on Social Security as their primary source of income, Social Security should not be a minor consideration. Retirement planning should always be something that people consider when making financial decisions. Many of the issues that divorcing parties face are financial ones. As a result, divorcing couples should seriously consider how divorce affects their retirement plan, including Social Security benefits.

Source: The LA Times, "Divorce can complicate Social Security claims," Kathy M. Kristof, 6 Mar 2011

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