Q. I am trying to help my mother understand whether she can afford to get out of a bad marriage where she is also nearing retirement. They signed a pre-nuptial agreement because it was a second marriage for both. Per their agreement, most of their assets are considered separate property and cannot be divided. My mom has a mortgage-free condo in North Carolina which she rents out and intends to someday use in retirement. She also has almost a million in retirement assets. She hasn’t ever worked full time, which was great when I was young, but hasn’t helped her build wealth. She can ask for alimony, but I understand only until retirement, and they are both five years away from Social Security retirement age.
I suppose she will have some Social Security but as a part-time classroom aide it’s not likely to amount to much. He earns a lot of money, but I’ve heard it is hard to challenge a pre-nuptial agreement.
A. First of all, this is not a simple situation, and your mother should consult a lawyer. There are certain things that a lawyer can tell you just by looking at the pre-nuptial agreement to determine whether it may make sense to try to challenge. For purposes of this answer, I will assume she has no grounds to challenge the agreement.
The one piece you are overlooking is your mother’s ability to claim part of her husband’s Social Security benefit. So long as she has been married for ten years or longer, which it sounds like she has, she can get more money on account of his earning history. If she waits until she reaches normal retirement age, she can then claim half of her husband’s Social Security benefit instead of electing her own benefit so long as half of his benefit is higher than her own benefit.
If your mom moves to a condo in North Carolina where the cost of living is lower, she can probably live quite comfortably on the combination between half of her husband’s Social Security benefit and an estimated 3% return on her retirement account investments.
There is no reason to stay in a bad marriage into her well-earned retirement years solely because of concerns for her bottom line!
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