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Spousal Social Security Benefits

Social Security benefits are not the exclusive purview of those persons on whom the benefits fundamentally rely.  Social Security benefits may fully depend on a retired worker’s lifetime earnings, or, alternatively, on an individual’s qualifying disability, but these are not the only persons entitled to receive Social Security benefits (retirement and disability benefits, respectively).  In fact, Social Security law is rather inclusive.  Under the current Social Security legal regime, the spouses — both current spouses and ex-spouses — of retired workers and disabled individuals may be entitled to receive Social Security benefits, subject to certain criteria and limitations.

If you are the former or current spouse of a retired worker or disabled person who is entitled to Social Security benefits, then you may be deemed eligible to receive benefits, even if you would not otherwise be independently entitled to such benefits.

This jumble of legal terminology and concepts can be difficult to make sense of without some additional context.  Let’s explore some of the basics of the spousal benefit for a clearer understanding of how it all works.

Spousal Benefit Amount

Qualified spouses are entitled to receive up to 50% of the retired worker’s Social Security benefits, or up to 50% of the disabled individual’s Social Security disability benefits.  Spousal benefits consider the existence of independent benefits, too.

Confused?  Consider the following.

Suppose that you have only worked part-time and inconsistently for most of your life.  You are entitled to Social Security retirement benefits, independently, but your spouse was the primary and consistent earner in the family.  As such, your independent Social Security retirement benefits equal to about $400 per month (based off your lifetime earnings).  Your spouse, however, will be receiving Social Security retirement benefits equal to about $2,000 per month.

Now, as a qualified spouse, you are entitled to up to 50% of your spouse’s retirement benefits.  In this example, you are entitled to additional benefits to help you reach the requisite 50% (e.g. $2,000).  The Social Security Administration can award you additional spousal benefits of up to $600 per month, on top of your independent retirement benefits of $400 per month, for a total of $1,000 per month in benefits.

Some people who may qualify for spousal benefits worry about whether it will affect their spouse’s benefit amount.  Fortunately, spousal benefits do not negatively affect the retirement or disability benefits.  Spousal benefits are an additional award — they are not subtracted from existing benefits.

Spousal Eligibility

As an initial matter, it’s important to note that spousal benefits cannot be collected if your spouse is not already receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits.  Recall that spousal benefits are awarded on the basis of the earning spouse’s own benefits.  The exception to this prohibition is if you are an ex-spouse.  You can collect spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse’s Social Security record, even if your ex-spouse hasn’t yet filed for or received their benefits (though your ex-spouse must be at least 62 years of age).

Not all spouses qualify for spousal benefits.  There are certain criteria you’ll have to satisfy in order to qualify for spousal benefits.  They are as follows:

  • You have to be age 62, at least; or
  • You can be any age, but you must be a caretaker for the earning spouse’s minor child; or
  • You can be any age, but you must be a caretaker for the earning spouse’s disabled child.

Collecting spousal benefits is not always a straightforward matter.  In some circumstances, spousal benefits may be denied, in which case you may be able to appeal the decision.  For further guidance on spousal benefits, consult with a skilled SSDI attorney today.