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How divorce timing can impact Social Security benefits

Many retired Massachusetts residents rely on Social Security benefits to make ends meet. The amount of benefits people qualify for is determined by their earnings history, but the Social Security Administration has provisions in place to protect the interests of divorced spouses who have sacrificed careers in order to focus on parenting and other family matters. While divorced spouses may qualify for up to half of the benefits earned by their former husbands or wives, they must meet strict requirements in order to qualify.

The SSA only provides these benefits to divorced spouses who were married for at least 10 consecutive years, and couples who neglect to consider these benefits when they file for divorce are not able to subsequently qualify by remarrying in order to meet the 10-year requirement. While divorced spouse benefits become available when couples reach 62 years of age, they will be higher for those who put off making their claims until they reach the full retirement age.

The divorced spouses of deceased individuals qualify for retirement benefits under the SSA widow and widower provisions. These provisions entitle divorced surviving spouses to receive 100 percent of the benefits earned by their former husbands or wives. While marriages qualify for widow or widower Social Security benefits after just nine months, the 10-year rule still apples when the couple concerned is divorced.

A family law attorney will often bring up the subject of divorced spouse Social Security benefits when dealing with a married client who is close to, but has not yet reached, the 10-year threshold. The attorney may also point out other considerations that may sometimes be overlooked during heated negotiations over property division and spousal support, including life insurance policies and retirement plans.

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