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How to keep the financial costs of divorce from derailing your retirement

Divorce can break hearts and rip apart retirement plans.

According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 40 percent of marriages end in divorce. The financial costs can be high, from legal fees, which may require selling illiquid assets, to the costs of paying for two residences, and more. In fact, the center found that households with a past divorce are much less likely to be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement.  

Protect yourself.

Understand what’s considered community property


Some retirement benefits are considered community property (which means they must be divided if you get divorced) while others are not. Accrued or vested retirement benefits, such as IRAs, 401(k) and 403(k) plans, Keoghs, and military pensions, are split with your spouse when you divorce.

“Worker’s comp, and compensation for military injuries, are not community property.  You keep them in full. Social Security payments are yours to keep, though your ex might be entitled to their own payments from your record, based on how long you were married,” says Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax & Consulting in Rockville Centre.

Rethink the house


That big house that worked with two incomes can be a financial albatross post-divorce.  Funds that might otherwise be available for retirement savings are diverted to property taxes, mortgage payments, maintenance and upkeep.  “Downsizing is usually a better option,” says Chris Schiffer, executive vice president of AEPG Wealth Strategies in Warren, New Jersey.

Make adjustments

Says Elysa Greenblatt of Greenblatt Law in Manhattan, “We have seen support payors need to work longer than planned, and often well past normal retirement age, to meet support obligations.”

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