Divorce is on the rise among seniors. Seniors in reasonably good health can envision many more active years, and they want those years to be happy ones; thus, an increasing number will get a divorce rather than remain
in an unhappy marriage.
An important issue in the "grey divorce" is the economic
security of both spouses after the divorce. While divorces
almost always involve financial issues, such as division of
marital assets, divorced seniors often struggle financially
as they typically do not have as many years of working
and saving left as younger divorcing couples.
For women, the financial impact of divorce can be
especially devastating as they are half as likely as men to
receive their own pension income. While a wife may be
awarded a share of her husband's pension benefits in a
divorce, frequently there are no pension benefits or they
are inadequate to provide financial security for both
divorced spouses. More often than not, the only retirement
benefit available to either spouse is Social Security.
As a part of Social Security's "basic level of protection,"
a woman may be eligible for Social Security benefits as
a result of her husband's earnings and payments into the Social Security system. These "derivative benefits" are
payable at wife's retirement age (62 or older), even if
wife and husband are later divorced.
To be eligible for
former spouse benefits, you must have been married to
your former spouse at least 10 years "immediately before
the date the divorce became final." The magic number is
10 years - plus one day.
The former spouse rule benefits the woman who has
never worked or worked sporadically during the marriage
but is not eligible for Social Security benefits in
her own right. Even if a woman is eligible for benefits
based on her own work, many women may get a higher
benefit based on their ex-husband's work.
payable are equal to one-half the amount the husband is
eligible to collect, based on his earnings over his entire
career. As women have typically earned less than men,
the increase in benefit amount may be significant.
If you are contemplating divorce, you should be aware
of the requirements to receive Social Security benefits
based on a former spouse's work. The rules apply to
either former spouse. Thus, a divorced husband may
receive benefits based on an ex-wife's Social Security
If your former spouse is living, you can receive benefits
based on the former spouse's work if:
- Your marriage lasted 10 years or longer;
- You are currently unmarried;
- You are age 62 or older;
- The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your
own work is less than the benefit you would receive
on your spouse's work; and
- Your former spouse is entitled to receive Social
Security retirement or disability benefits.
Even if your former spouse has not applied for benefits,
you may still be able to receive benefits based on the
former spouse's earnings record, so long as the former
spouse: (1) can qualify for benefits; (2) is age 62 or older,
and (3) you have been divorced for at least two years.
Generally, if divorced spouses remarry, they are no longer
eligible for benefits from the previous former spouse.
If the remarriage terminates, the divorced spouse once
again becomes eligible for benefits from the previous
If your former spouse is deceased, you can receive
- You are age 60 (or age 50 and disabled);
- You are unmarried (or were remarried after age 60);
- Your marriage lasted at least 10 years;
- You are not entitled to a higher benefit on your
If you are divorced and have never asked Social Security
about qualifying for "former spouse" benefits, you
should do so. You can contact your local Social Security
Administration office or visit the Social Security website
at www.ssa.gov for further information.
for "former spouse" benefits, you will need: (1) proof
of your age; (2) proof of marriage (usually the original
marriage certificate or certified copy); (3) proof of the
divorce (certified copy of the final decree); and (4) your
former spouse's Social Security number or date and place
of birth and parents' names.
If you are currently contemplating divorce, don't forget
the 10-year rule. If you do not qualify for Social Security
benefits or have earned less than your spouse, and are
just short of that magic number, you may want to wait
to file for divorce or delay finalizing the divorce until
after the 10-year mark.
This article was written by Deborah Dallmann, Esq., a
Legal Aid staff attorney in Legal Aid's Elyria office who
handles family, benefits and education cases. It is reprinted with permission from The Alert, a publication of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.
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