A Divorced Woman's Guide to Social Security

Getting a divorce will affect your Social Security benefits. Know what will happen.

When you are getting divorced, Social Security is probably the last thing that comes to mind. But the more you know about it, the better off you will be.

The timing of your divorce can affect your financial position. For many women, Social Security is a lifeline. One in five women over age 65 receives income only from Social Security. That's a scary notion given that payments are relatively small and the precariousness of the future of the system. Of course, you will be eligible for your own benefits if you have worked. But in many cases, your spouse's benefits will be larger, and you may or may not receive them.

Take note of these statistics: The average monthly benefit paid in 1999 for a worker who retired at 65 was $780. The average monthly benefit paid to a couple was $1,310. Women's benefits average about 25 percent less then men's because they tend to be out of the workforce for longer periods of time to raise a family or care for an aging parent. Then too, women still earn less than men in most industries. The average is 74 cents to the dollar. The less you earn, the lower your Social Security benefit is, since it is calculated on your earnings.

Ten is the magic number

If you have been married for at least 10 years and don't remarry, you can qualify for Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse's earnings when you both reach age 62. That is the case even if he has remarried or hasn't yet retired and begun to receive benefits himself.

But you are entitled to receive 50 percent of your husband's Social Security benefits as an ex-wife. Keep in mind, though, that if you qualify for benefits based on your own employment history, you'll receive the larger of the two payments

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