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What Ohio spouses may not know about Social Security and divorce

Government benefits probably don't worry you right now, if Social Security only means an identification number and a paycheck deduction. The impact of Social Security hits harder as retirement nears, when a person becomes disabled and during one other significant life event that many Columbus spouses overlook -- divorce.

Financial issues are a sizeable portion of Ohio divorce agreements. Depending on the length of a marriage, Social Security is a benefit you might have to share with an ex, now or in the future. Marriages that end before the 10-year mark aren't affected, but divorces after a decade may mean benefits for an ex based on your Social Security record.

That's not the only qualification for divorced-spouse benefits. An ex may not collect any portion of Social Security retirement or disability benefits, unless you are qualified to receive them. The benefits recipient also must be at least 62 and single.

There's another hurdle, too. If an ex's own Social Security benefits are higher than yours, he or she won't qualify to receive any of your benefits. A former spouse may begin collecting benefits based on your Social Security record, even if you haven't requested benefits yet, once the divorce has been final for two years.

The benefits to an ex stop if the former spouse remarries. The benefits are suspended as long as your ex remains married. Should the remarriage fail or the ex is widowed, the Social Security Administration may permit a former spouse to resume receiving benefits from your record.

If all these guidelines and exceptions seem confusing, you are not alone wondering whether the federal benefit rules affect your divorce. A 2010 SSA study revealed that only 21 percent of surveyed individuals understood the way Social Security divorced-spouse benefits work. Ohio spouses or former spouses who don't know the details can get them from SSA or a financial or legal adviser.

Source: Market Watch, "How divorce, remarriage impact Social Security" Robert Powell, Feb. 18, 2014

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