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Importance of Social Security planning in divorce

Many California residents have heard that Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck are apparently preparing to divorce. Although initial reports indicated they would wait until after they had been married for 10 years, recent ones now indicate they will divorce before that milestone has been reached.

While future Social Security benefits are probably not that important to either of them, their case provides a good illustration about why people should take them into account. If people are married for at least 10 years before divorcing and then have not remarried, they are then later eligible to receive Social Security benefits based upon their former spouse's contributions. Getting divorced prior to reaching 10 years, then, can mean that they lose out on potentially thousands of dollars to which they would have otherwise been entitled.

Under the law, a person who has been married for at least 10 years may elect to take Social Security benefits early when they reach age 62 for a reduced monthly amount. Even if one does, the other can wait until full retirement age and opt for the higher amount at age 67, and the former spouse's decision to retire early won't affect the amount they receive. Another option is to make a restricted claim for benefits. A restricted claim is when one spouse opts to receive benefits based on their former spouse until they reach age 70, then switching over to their own benefits that have been accruing.

Social Security planning may not be a factor in many divorces involving significant assets, but it can be for couples with fewer means. The availability of certain advantages under current Social Security rules may at times come into play when negotiating property division or spousal support, and a family law attorney might take this into account on behalf of a divorcing client.

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