Social Security and Your Spouse

Social Security and Your Spouse

October 04, 2022

Many people know they're eligible for Social Security benefits, but did you know there's also a provision to provide for spouses, regardless of whether they've contributed to the program? You might also be eligible to claim spousal benefits if you're widowed. In some cases, you may also be able to receive benefits if you’re divorced.  

These benefits allow spouses who were stay-at-home parents, never entered the workforce, or didn’t earn enough qualifying credits, to receive Social Security payments still. You may be surprised to learn that if you apply for your own Social Security benefits when you are married, you also automatically apply for your spousal benefits.  This takes some legwork out of receiving your full benefit.   

 Who is eligible?

For spouses to receive benefits, they must:

  • Be married to their spouse for at least one year.
  • Their spouse must also have claimed Social Security benefits.
  • Be at least 62 years old or older or…
  • Caring for a child 16 years old or younger or for a child receiving Social Security disability benefits. If you're in this situation, Social Security benefits are not reduced.

Spousal benefits are capped at 50% of the benefits your spouse would have received at their full retirement age. Moreover, if your spouse claims their benefits before retirement age, your benefits will also be reduced.

It's important to note that if your spouse dies, you should apply for survivor benefits, not spousal ones. For people who are widowed, if your spouse's benefits are higher than yours, you might be eligible to receive their full benefit amount instead of spousal benefits. However, if you remarry, you won't be eligible to receive your late spouse's Social Security benefits.

 Claiming on an ex-spouse

There are also certain conditions where you can receive spousal benefits even if you're divorced. The following conditions must be met:

  • You and your ex-spouse must have been married for at least ten years.
  • You must be divorced from your ex-spouse for at least two consecutive years.
  • You must be currently unmarried.
  • Your ex-spouse must be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
  • The benefits you would have received from your work record must be less than the spousal benefits.

 The Bottom Line

Spousal Social Security benefits are extremely important to many retirees as they provide a significant, consistent source of income. Understanding the benefits and your options is key to putting the retirement puzzle together.  Furthermore, understanding the options can help you best take advantage of the program in maximizing your family benefits.  If you need help exploring your options, we are happy to be a resource.   

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