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Social Security benefits for former spouses

It is not uncommon for one person in a marriage to forego employment opportunities in order to stay home and take care of household and child rearing duties while the other spouse has a lucrative career. This could have an adverse effect on his or her future Social Security benefits, especially when the couple's marriage later ends, but the Social Security Administration has rules that protect certain lower-earning spouses in this regard.

It is possible for an ex-spouse who is in this position to use his or her former spouse's earnings history when applying for Social Security benefits. To be eligible for this, the couple must have been married for at least 10 years. A partial year can still count as one of the 10 years, but the years must be consecutive. The lower-earning person can receive up to 50 percent at full retirement age of what the higher-earning person would earn.

A surviving divorced spouse may also get Social Security benefits from a former partner if a marriage lasted at least 10 years. This does not apply if one was married to a spouse at the time of his or her death as a marriage must only have lasted for at least nine months in this case. A divorced spouse receives the same benefits as a widow or widower, which is 100 percent of what a spouse was getting when he or she died.

If both parties are willing to be honest and want to come up with a settlement agreement outside of court, there are many options when dissolving a marriage. Instead of more alimony or child support, a partner who earns less or has custody of the children could receive something else instead of a higher monthly payment. An attorney can assist a divorcing spouse in negotiating such an agreement.

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