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Effects of a divorce on Social Security benefits

Celebrity breakups often reveal insights into issues that arise during divorces of less-publicized couples. People in Texas approaching their 10th wedding anniversary, like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, might want to think about how divorcing at that point in a marriage influences their future Social Security retirement benefits.

According to many recent media reports, Affleck and Garner expect to divorce and negotiate a split of approximately $150 million in assets. If their divorce goes through prior to their 10th anniversary, then they will be giving up some Social Security privileges that are available to people who were married for at least 10 years, although it is unlikely that it will matter to them in the future.

Under current Social Security rules, after 10 years of marriage, either spouse can choose to collect benefits at an early retirement age. While one partner claims an early benefit, the other spouse can wait until full retirement age without a reduction of benefits. Furthermore, death benefits could also be collected by a spouse or ex-spouse who was married for at least 10 years. In addition, a divorced person who was married for at least 10 years and who has not remarried can in some cases choose to base his or her claim for retirement benefits on the former spouse's earnings record. This can often be valuable to a person who has not been employed for prolonged periods of time or who earned far less than the former spouse.

Many people who are contemplating the end of a marriage often fail to consider how the process will affect their retirement. However, the Social Security benefits that are available to spouses who have been married for at least 10 years can have an impact on current issues such as property division and alimony. A family law attorney might take the applicable rules into account when negotiating a settlement agreement on behalf of a divorcing client.

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