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Kiplinger: The Rules of Retirement for Women

Demand a fair share in divorce.

Divorce among couples 50 and older is at a record high. In 2009, about 25% of people who got divorced in 2009 were 50 and older, compared with about 10% in 1990, according to a report this year by two sociologists at Bowling Green State University.

It is essential for divorcing women to negotiate a fair share of retirement assets. Under state laws, a pension earned in retirement is a joint asset. If both spouses have retirement accounts, one route is to “equalize” the assets so that each spouse gets half of the total.

You should not necessarily forgo your right to the retirement pension income stream in exchange for the house. You could end up with a mortgage, property taxes and maintenance costs that you can’t afford -- and be forced to sell in a declining real estate market. “A pension will bring in money for the rest of your life, but a house will have the costs that houses have,” Housell says.

If you plan to ask for a share of your husband’s employer-based retirement benefits, make sure you get a court order, known as a qualified domestic relations order, in addition to the divorce decree. The QDRO gives legal permission to the plan sponsor to disburse funds to the ex-spouse.

Also, you could be entitled to Social Security spousal or survivor benefits based on a former husband’s earnings record. To be eligible for such benefits, you must have been married for at least ten years and not be entitled to a higher benefit based on your own record.

To collect a spousal benefit based on an ex-spouse’s earnings record, you must be 62 and unmarried. To collect a survivor benefit on a late husband’s record, you need to be at least 60 (or 50 and disabled); your benefits could continue even if you remarry.

In the case of a spousal benefit, your ex does not need to know you’ve made a claim. He must be eligible for benefits (that is, 62 or older), though not necessarily claiming, before you can apply.


More From Kiplinger:
10 Great U.S. Cities for Retirees
5 Costly Retirement Surprises
10 Things You Must Know About Social Security

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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