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Divorce, retirement and benefits

Florida couples going through a divorce later in life may wonder if it will have any effect on their respective Social Security benefits. Current law provides that an ex-spouse who has been divorced for at least two years can collect retirement benefits based upon the work record of the other spouse under certain conditions. The marriage had to last for at least 10 years, the ex-spouse cannot have remarried, must be at least 62 years of age and cannot be eligible for higher benefits based on his or her own employment history. The former partner does not need to be receiving benefits in order for the ex-spouse to qualify.

The divorced spouse can receive up to a maximum of 50 percent of the other spouse's benefit, with the percentage being reduced if taken before full retirement age. The Social Security Administration provides information on its website regarding how taking early retirement will affect benefits. If the divorced spouse also qualifies for benefits based upon his or her own work history, only the higher of the two benefits will be paid.

Remarriage will cause the divorced spouse's benefits to end until the later marriage ends. If both marriages end after more than 10 years, the divorced spouse will be entitled to collect the larger of the two benefits. Survivor benefits are also available to a divorced person, provided that the marriage lasted for at least 10 years. These benefits can be as much as 100 percent of what the deceased ex-spouse was due.

Social Security benefits can sometimes play a small but important part in arriving at property settlement or support agreements in a complex asset divorce. An attorney with experience in family law matters may be able to help explain these and other Social Security rules to a client involved in divorce proceedings.

Source: Huffington Post, "How divorce can affect your social security", Jim T. Miller, November 11, 2013

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