Social Security eligibility for divorced spouses

Divorcing spouses in Tennessee and around the country who have never worked or only worked part-time have a lot at stake during alimony negotiations, but these discussions are usually less contentious when the couples involved have been married for 10 years or longer. That is because divorced spouses who were married for at least a decade are eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on the contributions made by their former wives or husbands.

When these spouses wait until they reach full retirement age to begin receiving Social Security benefits, they are entitled to up to half of the benefits their former husband or wife will receive. They can start receiving these benefits even if their former spouse has not yet applied, providing that they have not remarried and their individual benefits are lower than their former spouse's benefits. The full retirement age varies according to an individual's year of birth. Americans born after 1960 reach this milestone at age 67.

Divorced spouses who remarry are no longer able to claim these benefits, but they may be entitled to benefits based on the contributions made by their new spouses if they are at least 62 years of age. When their new marriages end in divorce, death or annulment, spouses may once again receive Social Security benefits based on their former spouse's contributions.

The rules regarding Social Security benefits can be bewildering to divorcing spouses who did not play an active role when financial decisions were made, and experienced family law attorneys may call on retirement planners to help them make these important decisions and ensure that they understand their options. Attorneys might also point out the Social Security ramifications of divorce to spouses who are ending their marriages after nearing, but not reaching, their 10 year anniversaries.

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