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Divorce and spousal Social Security benefits

Most people going through divorce focus on separate and marital property such as homes and cars as well as savings, retirement and investment accounts. However, no matter what your age, it's essential to consider how your divorce can affect your Social Security benefits.

These benefits are an important safety net for seniors. The intention of the program is to replace about 40 percent of workers' pre-retirement salary. The average monthly benefit for retired Americans this year is predicted to be $1,360.

There are ways to maximize your benefits, such as waiting to start collecting them for as long as possible rather than beginning to do so when you reach full retirement age. That age is between 65 and 67 years old, depending on the year you were born.

You are also entitled to collect Social Security benefits based on your spouse's work record or disability status, even if you are divorced. However, there are some important requirements to keep in mind regarding spousal retirement and disability benefits when you and your spouse are divorced.

-- You and your spouse must have been married for at least ten years.

-- You must be at least 62.

-- You must be single. You may have remarried and divorced or become widowed.

-- The spousal benefit must be greater than your own

Collecting spousal benefits doesn't reduce the amount that's paid to your spouse and vice-versa. Spousal benefits can also be collected on a former spouse's work record regardless of whether that person has begun collecting his or her own benefits, as long as you've been divorced for at least two years.

If you're nearing retirement age (or have already reached it) when you divorce, it's probably wise to consult the Social Security Administration website, which contains more detailed information on spousal benefits. A tax professional and/or financial planner can also provide guidance on this and other matters. If you don't have your own financial professionals, your family law attorney can likely recommend people in your area.

Source: The Motley Fool, "Your 2017 Guide to Social Security and Divorce," Todd Campbell, accessed Jan. 12, 2017

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