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How does divorce impact Social Security benefits?

There is rarely a former couple who comes through the divorce process without some degree of contention or conflict. While a divorce for a couple married for a short period of time is still be difficult, there may be fewer assets to divide than for those who have been in longer marriages. For example, the long term retirement plans of a couple who have only been married a relatively short period of time may not be severely impacted. Unfortunately for Massachusetts couples who have been married for much longer than that, there are many other financial considerations and implications. It is likely, however, that both spouses are still entitled to Social Security benefits.

While it is common for couples to have increasingly equal incomes, those who have a large amount of disparity may wonder how they will be able to cope with the financial implications of a divorce. Fortunately, in a marriage that lasted more than 10 years, a divorced spouse can still receive Social Security benefits based on the former spouse's work history. There are, however, several conditions to qualify for these benefits.

In order to qualify, both spouses must be eligible to receive such benefits. Additionally, the divorce must have occurred at least two years prior, and the spouse seeking the other's benefits must be unmarried and not eligible for higher benefits based on his or her personal work history. Both must be at least 62 years old. Benefits are likely to be determined in the same manner for a divorced couple as for a married couple -- half of the worker's benefits at retirement age.

For couples who are ending a long term marriage, it is often difficult to separate their finances, especially in situations where the couple may have been nearing retirement. While most couples going through divorce may concern themselves only with present, more tangible items, it is important to consider the long term implications on one's retirement when dividing assets. While ending a relationship may be difficult for couples in Massachusetts and across the nation, it may ultimately be a great decision in order to start the next chapter of one's life.

Source:, Social Security decisions after divorce, David T. Mayes, Nov. 17, 2013

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