Many people know that they'll eventually be eligible for Social Security benefits, but did you know that there is also a provision that provides for spouses, regardless of whether they've contributed to the program? You might also be eligible to claim spousal benefits if you're widowed and, in some cases, even if you're divorced.
You may be surprised to learn that if you apply for Social Security when you are married, you are automatically applying for spousal benefits as well. This feature was added to recognize the many spouses who were stay-at-home parents and either never entered the workforce or didn't enter the workforce for long enough to qualify for their own benefits.1,2
So, how does claiming the spousal benefits work? For a spouse to receive benefits, they must:
- 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.
- Your husband or wife must have also claimed their Social Security benefits.
- You must have been married to your spouse for at least one year.1,2
Spousal benefits are capped at 50% of the benefit your spouse would have received at their full retirement age. Furthermore, if your spouse claims their benefits before retirement age, your benefits will be similarly reduced.1,2
It is important to note that if your spouse dies, you should not apply for spousal benefits. You should apply for survivor benefits instead. 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 receiving the reduced spousal benefit. However, if you remarry, you won't be eligible to receive your late spouse's Social Security benefits.3,4
There are also certain conditions where you can receive spousal benefits even if you are divorced. The following conditions must be met:
- You and your ex-spouse must have been married for at least 10 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.3,4
Spouses enjoy a lot of flexibility thanks to Social Security spousal benefits. As you near retirement age, you'll want to explore your options to best take advantage of the program and maximize your benefits.