Unique Issues Facing Older Divorcees
Since people are living longer and divorce is becoming more and more common, there has been an increase in the number of older people getting divorced. Some of the issues facing older divorcees are different from those facing younger couples. Issues like retirement and healthcare often take on added significance while child custody may no longer be an issue.
Divorce is difficult under any circumstances, but it can be a frightening prospect when your retirement years have been carefully planned considering the pension, social security, and healthcare benefits of your spouse. As you prepare to divorce it is helpful to know how divorce will affect these issues. Consider the following:
As part of any divorce proceeding, and especially for older couples, the parties should factor in pension benefits. For young people it can be hard to think about retirement years and whether they will require support in addition to their own retirement benefits but it is a pressing issue for older people. The pension benefits of one or both spouses must be considered in order to determine if each party has the means to support themselves. Furthermore, pension benefits earned during the marriage are considered marital property that belongs to both spouses. Pension benefits can be divided by the courts. Depending on the overall situation a court may favor giving the pension to the spouse who earned it or could allocate the benefit between the parties. Of course, if you reach a divorce agreement with your spouse then you don't need a court to decide how the pension will be allocated. You can then agree on a fixed amount each month or on a percentage of what was earned. As you decide how to deal with pension benefits consider when the plan will vest, what benefits it will provide, whether it has benefits for a surviving spouse and if the benefits of the plan can by accessed now. As required by federal law, most private insurers will send separate checks to you and your former spouse. If sharing the pension is undesirable for some reason then the benefits can still be considered when negotiating other issues like the amount of spousal support (alimony).
If your spouse worked longer than you did or earned more, then the social security retirement benefits that you receive through your spouse could be higher than your own benefits. Retirement benefits are paid out while your spouse is still living and you get an amount equal to 50% of what your spouse earned (this is only true if your own benefits are less than that amount). Generally, a divorce will terminate these benefits, but there are exceptions. One exception is for couples who have been married for 10 years prior to the divorce. If you have been married 10 years then you will continue to acquire this benefit and it will not affect the benefit amount of your former spouse or his or her future spouse if he or she remarries. Another Social Security benefit that usually terminates with divorce is survivor's benefits. These are benefits that are paid when the spouse dies. These benefits will also continue if you have been married for at least 10 years. As you factor Social Security benefits into your future plans consider when you want to retire and begin collecting benefits. The age of retirement will affect the amount of your monthly payment. Remarriage will also affect your benefits. If you remarry your benefits will terminate but they could be reinstated if that marriage ends in death or divorce. These regulations could change and there are lots of exceptions to consider so contact the Social Security Administration to find out more how your benefits will be affected by divorce.
Health insurance that is provided to you through your spouse's employer will usually terminate upon divorce. Sometimes you can obtain a temporary extension of this insurance by paying your own separate premium but those costs can be much higher than what you are accustomed to. In some cases, the insurance plan will allow your coverage to continue. This will depend on the plan and on the criteria that they set. For example, they may allow you to keep the insurance if your spouse is already retired. This situation will vary depending on the plan so that is something you need to explore when preparing for divorce. You may also want to explore whether or not you will be eligible for state assistance or Medicare (federal healthcare program).
There are many other considerations that need to be made when divorce is contemplated. The value of input from an experienced attorney cannot be underestimated. When looking for an attorney, make sure that he or she understands the unique issues facing older divorcees. Communicate with your attorney so that they know what issues are the most important to you. Although it is scary to plan a future on your own you can make the best plans if you are armed with information.
Divorce for Older Couples: What Should You Consider?
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