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Social Security retirement and spousal support modifications

Retirement affects a lot of different areas of your life -- and that may include the amount of money that you either pay or receive in spousal support.

There are a number of different things that you should know about how divorce affects Social Security benefits:

-- An unmarried, former spouse with income lower than his or her ex can collect Social Security retirement benefits either on his or her own record or on the ex-spouse's record, whichever is higher.

-- A former spouse can only collect on his or her ex's Social Security retirement if the marriage lasted at least 10 years.

-- The benefits collected by a former spouse do not affect the ex-spouse's benefit amount. His or her Social Security won't be lowered in any way.

-- If the spouse with the higher income remarries, the new husband or wife can also collect on the same Social Security record without affecting the amount of money paid to anyone else.

-- You cannot sign away entitlement to your rights to Social Security benefits on a former spouse's record -- no matter what your divorce paperwork may say. It's a federal benefit to which you have an absolute right.

If you have reached retirement age and decide to file for benefits, it may be necessary to revisit how much you are paying your ex-spouse in alimony, especially since your entitlement to benefits will result in his or her entitlement to benefits. The court may be willing to offset your monthly payment by the amount of Social Security your ex-spouse is now going to receive.

If you're receiving spousal benefits, you likely want to make sure that any reduction in the amount you're being paid is genuinely necessary. It's one thing to accept a lower income because you ex-spouse simply no longer has the same amount of money coming in -- it's another thing entirely to accept it without questioning whether there are other sources of available income that are leaving your ex far more comfortable in his or her golden years than you are.

No matter what side of the issue you're on, consider asking an attorney to help you wade through any potential modification agreement now that you or your ex-spouse are retiring. For more information on how we approach post-divorce modifications, please visit our page.

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