Social Security benefits often forgotten in divorce

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If you’re going through a divorce, you are likely focused on what’s going to happen to the marital home, cars, credit card bills, joint bank accounts, home furnishings, and perhaps vacation home. But it’s common for people to overlook another important potential asset: their spouse’s Social Security benefits.

If you have been married to your spouse for at least 10 years, you are entitled to claim a spousal benefit based on your ex’s Social Security contributions. The amount of the benefit can be up to about $20,000 a year based on Social Security Administration formulas, which is not insignificant.

You can’t claim this on top of the benefits from your own career, and it wouldn’t make sense to claim it if your own benefits are higher. But if you halted your career to stay home and take care of the children during the marriage, thereby missing out on the accrual of higher benefits along the way, it may be a good idea to claim the spousal benefit.

Additionally, when you claim your share, your spouse’s benefit isn’t impacted. In fact, he or she likely won’t even know you made the claim.

The government does put restrictions on the spousal benefit. You can’t claim it until you reach age 62, and you get a more generous benefit by waiting until the full retirement age of 67. You also need to have been divorced for two years to claim it, and you can’t be remarried when you do so.

So if you are contemplating divorce but haven’t reached your 10th anniversary, you might delay filing until that date arrives. You also should think twice about remarrying if you don’t want to lose the benefits.

There may be other factors that impact your decision, too. A family lawyer can review with you all the considerations.

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