Social Security and Gray Divorce

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Gray divorce. Silver Splitter. Diamond Divorcee. They’re all names indicating a growing divorce rate among older couples. While overall divorce rates in the U.S. remained stable between 1990 and 2010, gray divorce, or divorce among spouses age 50 and older, doubled during the same time period. According to a study from Bowling Green State University, 25% of people getting divorced are age 50 and up and it can have a devastating effect on retirement. “Individuals who go through gray divorce are considerably economically disadvantaged and they are a growing demographic group.”

Some of the reasons for gray divorce include infidelity due to an increasing availability of male enhancement drugs, lifestyle, and increasing longevity. Whatever the reasons that make them unhappy, older Americans are apparently not willing to spend their golden years living unhappily ever after.

Aside from the negative implications of any divorce, gray divorce has the potential to affect retirement security, especially among baby boomers. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has been able to quantify how divorce affects retirement readiness. It found that half of American households are at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement. The risk is substantially higher for households that have experienced divorce.

One of the challenges for those who divorce at older ages is the short period of time to make up assets lost to their spouse in the divorce. That’s why Social Security is becoming even more important than ever in planning for retirement. But there are subtleties in the Social Security claiming rules that apply to divorce. How long you’ve been married, how long you’ve been divorced, and the age of ex-spouses all affect your claiming options.

  • Normally, a couple must be married at least 10 years before divorcing for one ex-spouse to claim Social Security benefits on the other former spouse’s earnings record.
  • To claim benefits as an ex-spouse, the person claiming benefits must remain unmarried.
  • Additionally, the couple must be divorced at least two years before a former spouse can file for spousal benefits on an ex’s earnings record if the ex has not yet claimed Social Security benefits. That’s known as being independently entitled to a Social Security spousal benefit. Both former spouses must be at least 62 years old to exercise this option.
  • But during the first two years after a divorce, an ex-spouse may be in limbo. She cannot collect spousal benefits if her former spouse has not yet claimed Social Security benefits.

If there’s a silver lining to claiming Social Security benefits on an ex-spouse’s work history it’s this. You don’t have to talk to your ex to make it happen. You and the Social Security Administration can set it up all by yourselves—thank you very much!

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