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What happens with Social Security and Medicare after a divorce?

Gray divorces involving people in their 50s or beyond have become much more common in recent years. Older adults are more likely than ever before to decide that their marriage affects their quality of life in their golden years and that they want to do something about that fact.

Many people who have remained married for decades feel anxious about what the future could hold after divorce. Dependent spouses who only worked part-time or who did not work at all might feel as though divorce is not an option because they depend on benefits related to their spouse’s employment history.

Those contemplating divorce after years of marriage might also worry that they will lose not only a large portion of their assets but also their eligibility for Medicare and Social Security benefits. Is the loss of benefits a likely outcome for those preparing for a gray divorce?

Spouses may still be eligible for benefits

Even long-term marriages can end in divorce, and government benefit programs recognize that fact. There are policies with many organizations that allow dependent spouses to continue accessing key benefit programs even after a grade divorce. Medicare, for example, will allow a divorced spouse of a wage earner to continue claiming Medicare benefits based on their spouse’s employment so long as the marriage lasted for at least 10 years.

Social Security retirement benefits are also accessible to those ending long-term marriages later in life. As with Medicare, the minimum marriage length for someone to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits based on a spouse’s income is 10 years.

Spouses who earned less may qualify for supplemental benefits based on the Social Security retirement benefits their spouse accrued. Dependent spouses can also receive Social Security retirement benefits. The claim of a dependent spouse will not diminish what the wage earnings spouse receives from Social Security during their retirement. Therefore, dependent spouses generally don’t need to worry about their wage earnings spouses fighting them when they apply for such benefits.

Understanding what resources will be available after they have moved on may help people feel more comfortable with the thought of a gray divorce. Seeking legal guidance is a good way to clarify how an individual’s unique circumstances may be impacted after a divorce filed later in life.