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What happens to government retirement benefits during divorce?

On Behalf of | Feb 1, 2024 | Family Law

The older someone is when they begin the divorce process, the more anxious they may be about the outcome. Those who are close to or past the age of retirement may worry about what effect a divorce might potentially have on their financial future.

Obviously, divorce can be very expensive, particularly when spouses fight about their property. Divorce usually also requires that people split up or divide their resources and financial obligations. Particularly when someone stayed home to raise the children or did not focus on their career but instead prioritized family matters, they may worry that a divorce could leave them at risk of poverty later in life.

They may depend on certain benefits that they are only eligible for due to their spouse’s employment. What happens to government retirement benefits after a divorce?

Dependent spouses could still qualify

Contrary to what people often assume about benefits after a divorce, the end of a marriage does not immediately make someone ineligible for crucial retirement benefits. Both Medicare benefits and Social Security retirement benefits may worry people as they prepare for divorce. Both programs already have rules about the rights of dependent spouses during divorce proceedings.

For someone in need of Social Security retirement benefits, a claim based on a spouse’s qualifications could be possible. Someone who is not eligible for retirement benefits on their own could make a claim based on their spouse’s employment history. Provided that they remained married for at least 10 years, the dependent or lower-earning spouse may potentially be eligible for coverage based on what the wage-earning or higher-earning spouse contributed to Social Security during the marriage.

A similar rule applies to Medicare benefits. Provided that the marriage lasted at least 10 years, someone dependent on their spouse’s employment history for Medicare benefits might still qualify for coverage even after a divorce.

In other words, dependent and lower-earning spouses do not remain trapped in unhealthy or unsatisfying marriages due to a need for government benefits. Instead, they can potentially receive the benefits they require without affecting how much their spouse receives. As such, learning about property division and benefits rules may help people feel more comfortable about the prospect of a divorce later in life.