Who Qualifies for Social Security Spousal Benefits? - dummies

Who Qualifies for Social Security Spousal Benefits?

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2018 by AARP. All rights reserved.

Social Security spousal benefits are benefits earned by a breadwinner, based on his or her earnings record, not the earnings record of the spouse. Spousal benefits don’t reduce the Social Security benefit that goes to the breadwinner. In fact, they can boost the income of an older household for many years — as long as the two partners remain alive.

Basically, you may be eligible for spousal benefits if all the following apply:

  • You’re at least 62 years old.
  • You are legally married to the breadwinner, and the marriage has lasted for at least one year.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows several exceptions to the one-year marriage requirement to qualify for spousal benefits. Here are two of the major exceptions:

  • An individual seeking spousal benefits may qualify if married to the worker for less than one year if he or she is the natural (biological) parent of the worker’s child. This parental exception is allowed even if the child is no longer alive.
  • An individual seeking spousal benefits may qualify if married to the worker for less than one year if he or she would qualify for a Social Security auxiliary benefit, such as an ex-spouse, widow, or surviving parent benefit, in the month prior to the month of marriage.
  • Say you’re getting your own retirement benefit at 62, based on your own career, and then you get married. In such a case, you potentially qualify for spousal benefits through your new spouse, even if the marriage hasn’t yet lasted a year. Of course, you want the spousal benefit only if it’s bigger than the benefit you’re already receiving.
  • You don’t already qualify for a larger benefit based on your own work record.
  • Your spouse (the breadwinner) has filed for his or her own Social Security benefits.

You may be eligible for benefits as an ex-spouse if your marriage lasted for ten years. (Note: Your former partner doesn’t have to file for benefits in order for you to potentially be eligible as an ex-spouse. But if your former partner hasn’t filed for benefits, your divorce must have been in effect for at least two years.)

As with all Social Security benefits, you may have to provide certain evidence to prove you’re eligible. For spousal benefits, this evidence may include proof of marriage (including proof that the marriage lasted at least one year) and proof of age. The proof of age requirement is waived if you’re caring for a child who is under 16 or who gets Social Security disability benefits.

When you file for spousal benefits, the SSA already may have some of the information it requires in its records, depending on your past dealings with the agency and whether you previously established an earnings record.

The SSA follows certain guidelines — including state and federal law — on who may receive spousal benefits. You may have a different definition of what constitutes a spouse or a legal marriage, but that won’t change a decision on your claim.