Divorce and Social Security: What You Should Know

One thing to keep in mind is that if your ex-husband has not yet applied for retirement benefits himself but does qualify, you must have been divorced from him for at least two years before you can begin collecting against his earnings record. In this case, J.G., that's not an issue because you've divorced for more than 10 years.

Finally, J.G., you ask what happens if your ex-husband dies? Are you out of luck?

No, you will qualify for survivor benefits as a divorced spouse, just as if you had been married to him at the time. And you always retain the right to the benefits you earned based on your own work history. You don't give those up even if you collect against your ex-husband's record. This could be an issue if you ever remarry yourself.

In fact, you also can begin by collecting Social Security through a divorced spouse benefit first and delay receiving your own retirement benefits until a later date. This could mean a higher benefit for you down the road by qualifying for delayed retirement credits that accumulate up until age 70.

And any retirement or survivor benefits you collect against your ex-husband's record will have no impact on the benefits paid to his second wife. So there is no need to worry about Social Security triggering any kind of dispute with your ex or his second wife.

For anyone considering a divorce, the critical thing to understand is that the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years to qualify for divorced spouse benefits.

In fact, if you're contemplating divorce or in the midst of one, I would give serious consideration to holding off finalizing the paperwork if you're anywhere close to reaching the 10-year threshold.

This is particularly true for anyone who stayed at home to care for a child and you are unlikely to be able to match your spouse's salary after the divorce.

For more information about Social Security benefits for divorced spouses, visit www.socialsecurity.gov and look for the "Marriage, Divorce, Name Changes" section under the "Other Useful Links" drop-down menu on the right side of the home page.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

David McPherson is founder and principal of Four Ponds Financial Planning in Falmouth, Mass. He previously worked as a financial writer and editor for The Providence Journal in Rhode Island. He is a member of the Garrett Planning Network, whose members provide financial advice to clients on an hourly, as-needed basis. Contact McPherson at david@fourpondsfinancial.com.

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