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How does divorce affect Social Security benefits?

Colorado spouses who are planning to divorce have a lot to think about, including child custody, alimony and asset division. One issue they may not think about is Social Security benefits. But it's an issue that should not be overlooked.

Divorced spouses have the right to collect Social Security disability or retirement benefits based on their ex-spouse's record if certain requirements are met. First, the marriage must have lasted at least ten years. In addition, you must be at least 62 years old and unmarried. If you get remarried, you will not be able to collect benefits based on your ex-spouse's record as long as you remain remarried. If your ex-spouse is eligible to collect Social Security benefits but has not applied for them yet, you can collect benefits on their record once you are divorced for two years.

The amount of benefits you can collect on your ex-spouse's record is one-half of their disability benefit or full retirement benefit. You can collect those benefits only if the amount you would get on your ex-spouse's account is greater than what you are entitled to on your own account. If that is the case, Social Security will pay your own benefit first and then pay the amount necessary to equal the higher amount based on your ex's record, adjusted for age. If you collect benefits based on your ex-spouse's record it does not affect the amount of benefits your ex will receive.

The timing of the divorce can be critical when it comes to spousal Social Security benefits. If you are contemplating divorce and you are approaching your ten-year wedding anniversary, it may make sense to postpone the divorce if that would result in additional Social Security benefits.

The information in this post is general information only. It should not be construed as legal advice. If you have questions about how divorce will affect your ability to collect spousal Social Security benefits, an experienced Colorado family law attorney can help.

Source: Social Security Administration, "Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced," accessed Feb. 2, 2015

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