Nashville Client Has ‘Aha Moment’ About Social Security Benefits and Her Pending Divorce Settlement in Tennessee

  Posted on May 19, 2011

During a recent meeting with a new client she told me that her divorce had been dragging on for 2 ½ years and she wanted it over in 45 days. I understood her frustration and emotional exhaustion because in addition to being a financial counselor, I too am a divorcee. I asked her how long she had been married and she responded 9 ½ years… I asked her if she knew that if she remained married for 10 years, she would be entitled to ½ of her husband’s social security benefit. She replied no, but her husband’s attorney would never agree. My client’s attorney had not properly addressed the financial issues. My client did not know that if she remained married for 10 years, she would be entitled to either:

  • Half of her husband’s monthly social security benefit or
  •  Her monthly benefit, whichever is larger

And her husband’s benefit would not be affected. If she divorced her husband in 45 days, as she and her attorney desired, she would not receive ½ of his monthly Social Security check when she turned 65. She would be walking away from a guaranteed monthly income of approximately $1,300. My client was totally unaware of this issue. She sat motionless at the conference table with a blank look on her face as I explained this fact, appearing totally stunned. When she finally spoke, all she said was “I didn’t know. Why didn’t my attorney tell me?”

I replied “Because your attorney went to Law School and there are no finance or even math classes in Law School. They don’t teach attorneys about these types of financial issues because the finances are not their responsibility. They are responsible for legal issues. You are responsible for the financial issues. Check your retainer agreement. I am sure it clearly states that your attorney is not giving you financial or tax advice.”

To condense the story that evolved over a few weeks, my client decided to remain married until she had been married for 10 years. When potential clients enter my office, they are usually unaware of their attorney’s limitations regarding the financial matters of their divorce. When they leave my office, they are aware that they alone are responsible for the financial issues of their divorce. I take pride in my ability to educate and empower my clients. I’m glad I make a difference in their divorce settlements.

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