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Social Security benefit rules for divorced spouses

About one in five retired couples in Washington and around the country rely on their Social Security checks to provide virtually all of their income, and older spouses sometimes remain in unhappy marriages because they fear losing these benefits will leave them unable to make ends meet. However, the Social Security Administration has options in place for people that could allow them to live comfortably in retirement even if they choose to divorce.

Even divorcees who have never worked and paid into Social Security are entitled to receive benefits based on their former husband or wife's contributions in certain situations. Divorced spouses qualify for these benefits if they are 62 years of age or older, were married for at least 10 years, and have not remarried. Spouses who wait until their full retirement age can receive 50% of the benefits their former husband or wife is entitled to. Divorced spouses who choose to start receiving benefits at 62 years of age receive less.

These payments are generally not made until the person who worked and made contributions begins receiving benefits. However, the SSA makes an exception for people who have been divorced for at least two years. Divorcees who did work and make Social Security contributions may also be able to receive benefits based on their former husband or wife's payments, but the amount they receive will be reduced accordingly.

Family law attorneys with experience in gray divorce cases may go over Social Security Administration programs and requirements during an initial client consultation. Attorneys may also explain how retirement funds in IRA and 401(k) accounts could be divided in a divorce. When spouses are unsure about the moist prudent way to proceed, attorneys may call on experts like financial advisers and retirement planners to help them make informed decisions.

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