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How the Social Security Administration deals with divorce

The Social Security Administration allows spouses to receive retirement benefits based on the contributions made by their husbands or wives if doing so would be advantageous for them, and this eligibility is unaffected by divorce as long as certain requirements are met. In order to receive benefits based on their former spouse's earnings records, spouses must have been married for 10 years or longer prior to divorcing, their former husbands or wives must be entitled to Social Security benefits, their spousal benefits must be higher than their individual benefits and they cannot have remarried.

When people meet all of these requirements, the Social Security benefits they receive can be as much as half of the benefits their former spouses are entitled to. To receive this amount, people must wait until they reach the full retirement age to begin claiming benefits. Those who choose to start receiving benefits at the age of 62 receive a reduced amount. The SSA bases an individual's full retirement age on the year they were born. For individuals born after 1960, the full retirement age is currently 67.

People who have been divorced for at least two years can begin to receive benefits based on a former spouse's Social Security contributions even if their former spouses are not yet claiming benefits. This eligibility ends when divorced spouses remarry, but they become eligible again if their new marriage ends due to annulment, death, or divorce.

The SSA provides a number of tools to help people determine what benefits they are entitled to and how much they can expect to receive, but experienced family law attorneys may consult with retirement planners to ensure that their clients fully understand the options available to them. Attorneys could also bring up these eligibility requirements and their financial implications to people who are considering a divorce after being married for less than 10 years.

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