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Ask Bob: Can my ex-spouse get to my Social Security benefits or 401(k) if the marriage was annulled?

After having her marriage annulled, a reader is worried her ex-husband may be able to tap her Social Security benefits or 401(k) assets. Attorney and adviser, Timothy Wyman, explains what could happen.

Question

I was granted an annulment about 11 years ago instead of divorce due to the fact that my (ex) husband is legally married back in his country. My question is, can he avail himself of my Social Security? And how about my 401(k) savings? Is he entitled to it, too? Please advise (we spent more than 10 years together)

Answer

The question poses some very interesting legal issues, says Timothy W. Wyman, CFP®, JD, with Center for Financial Planning, Inc., and he recommends, as with any legal issue, the reader consider seeking personalized counsel from a licensed attorney in her state of residence.

“As a general rule,” explains Wyman, “state law governs marriage and divorce. You should not assume that your marriage never existed due to an annulment.” For example, many people will choose to have their marriage annulled by religious authorities but for legal purposes they are treated as divorced.

Assuming that you are considered divorce, it is true that divorced spouses of marriages that last at least 10 years may be able to claim social security benefits based on your earnings record. “However,” notes Wyman, “the key is that even if your ex-spouse can claim benefits on your record, this in NO WAY reduces the amount of social security that you are entitled to.”

Regarding your 401(k), if your ex-spouse had a claim against your 401(k) it would have had to been initiated at the time of your divorce/annulment. “One way that an ex-spouse can “get at” a 401(k) plan”, Wyman says, “is if they are still listed as a beneficiary.” An important part of any divorce process should include a full review of 401(k), life insurance, and estate document beneficiaries.

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Email Robert.Powell@maven.io

Question

I was granted an annulment about 11 years ago instead of divorce due to the fact that my (ex) husband is legally married back in his country. My question is, can he avail himself of my Social Security? And how about my 401(k) savings? Is he entitled to it, too? Please advise (we spent more than 10 years together)

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