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Divorce and Social Security

When couples in Virginia divorce, finances are often a matter of contention. This may be particularly true when it comes to dividing retirement assets, such as IRAs, 401(k)s and pension plans. In some cases, divorcing spouses who are concerned about retirement income overlook one important benefit: Social Security.

It is sometimes possible for one spouse to claim Social Security spousal benefits based on the other spouse's earnings. Being able to do this can make a difference for spouses whose earnings have been significantly less than that of their ex-spouse. Claiming benefits on the ex-spouse's earnings does not have any effect on the ex-spouse's benefit amount. The application for benefits is made directly through Social Security, and the additional income, if awarded, can make a significant difference in the financial health of someone who has retired on a limited income.

There are restrictions on filing for spousal benefits from former spouses. The filing partner must be unmarried at the time of filing although subsequent marriages that ended in death or divorce may not prevent approval for benefits. The marital status of the spouse with a higher income doesn't matter. The marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years, and the divorce must have taken place at least two years prior to filing.

Individuals considering divorce may benefit from speaking to an experienced family law attorney. The lawyer may be able to review the client's case and make recommendations regarding asset division, ongoing support and child custody issues. Those who have already been through a divorce but who would like clarity on retirement income issues, including Social Security benefits, may also benefit from a consultation.

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