Eligibility for Social Security spousal benefits is open to individuals whose spouses, ex-spouses, or deceased spouses are eligible for benefits. Once you reach the eligibility age, you can qualify for this benefit.

You can only receive 50% of your spouse’s full benefit. However, the specific amount and timing depend on various factors, such as your spouse’s age and work history and your own age and work history.

It’s crucial to understand these factors to optimize the amount you receive. Furthermore, if your work history entitles you to a higher amount, you’ll automatically receive that higher benefit.

Who Qualifies for Social Security Spousal Benefits?

If your spouse has applied for Social Security benefits, you can also qualify for benefits based on their work record if you are at least 62 years old. If you care for a child entitled to receive benefits on your spouse’s record and is under 16 or disabled, you may be eligible.  

When applying for spousal benefits for social security disability, you simultaneously apply for benefits based on your work history. If your own earnings make you eligible for a higher benefit amount, you will receive that higher amount. If it is lower, you will receive the spousal benefit.

How to apply for social security spousal benefits?

Applying for Spousal Social Security Benefits requires visiting the official Social Security website or contacting your local Social Security office.
The application can be completed online, by phone, or in person. You’ll need information about your spouse’s work history, earnings, and Social Security details.

What are Spousal Benefits Based on?

Spousal benefits hinge on the calculation of what percentage of your partner’s benefits you are eligible for, determined by your age when you begin receiving benefits. Waiting until your full retirement age typically allows you to claim half of your spouse’s benefit amount, but filing earlier results in a reduced amount.

Spousal benefits are based on how much the other spouse will receive if you start collecting benefits at the

  • Full retirement age
  • Normal retirement age
  • Full retirement age: The “normal” retirement age, which determines spousal benefits, varies based on birth year. For those born between 1943 and 1955, it’s 66, gradually increasing to 67 for those born from 1955 to 1960. If your spouse retires or passes away, their “normal” benefit amount remains crucial in determining your entitlement to spousal benefits, regardless of the retirement age.

Claiming Early or Late: Your spousal benefit depends on when you claim it. You can start at 62, but the amount will be reduced. For instance, if your full retirement age is 67 and you claim at 62, you’ll get 32.5% of your spouse’s full benefit.
Waiting until your full retirement age allows you to receive a maximum of 50%. Notably, spousal benefits aren’t reduced if you’re caring for a qualifying child, but they can’t exceed 50% of your spouse’s full benefit.

If You’re Receiving Other Retirement Benefits: The calculation becomes more complex if you receive benefits from a government pension or foreign employer not covered by Social Security. You may still be eligible in such cases, but the amount will be reduced.
If you have a government pension without Social Security taxes, your spousal benefit is reduced by two-thirds of your pension amount, known as a government pension offset.

Same-Sex Married Couples: Same-sex married couples have equal rights as other couples, as affirmed by the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. This includes eligibility for Social Security spousal and dependent benefits.
Social Security also acknowledges non-marital legal relationships like civil unions and domestic partnerships. If eligible, spouses are encouraged to apply for benefits, according to the Social Security website.

Divorced and Widowed Spouses

Social Security spousal benefits for divorced and widowed individuals involve intricate rules to address various scenarios and ensure comprehensive coverage.

Spousal Benefits for Divorced Spouses

If you’re divorced, you may qualify for spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record, provided your marriage lasted at least 10 years, you’re currently unmarried, and your ex-spouse is eligible for benefits. If your ex-spouse is alive, you generally need to be at least 62, and if they’ve passed away, your benefits are akin to those of a widow or widower.

Spousal Benefits for Widows and Widowers

A widow or widower can receive up to 100% of their deceased spouse’s benefit if they’ve reached full retirement age at the time of application. The percentage is slightly reduced for those between 60 and full retirement age and can be as low as 71%. Disabled individuals can apply from age 50 onwards.
Credits earned by the deceased spouse for at least 10 years make the surviving spouse eligible for benefits. It’s advisable to wait until retirement age to maximize the benefit amount. If the spouse passes away while receiving spousal benefits, notifying Social Security is crucial as the benefit converts to a survivor benefit of 100%.

Spousal Benefits Loopholes

Spousal benefits can have certain loopholes, and two notable strategies are the “File and Suspend” strategy and “Deemed Filing.”

  • File and Suspend Strategy: This strategy involved one spouse filing for Social Security benefits and then suspending them. While suspended, the other spouse could claim spousal benefits based on the first spouse’s earnings. However, changes to Social Security rules in 2016 restricted the use of this strategy.
  • Deemed Filing: Deemed filing occurs when an individual applies for either their retirement benefit or a spousal benefit, and the Social Security Administration “deems” them to have filed for both.

This strategy prevents individuals from first taking only the spousal benefit and switching to their own later or vice versa.
It’s important to note that Social Security rules and strategies can evolve, and individuals should stay informed about the current regulations.

Strategies for Maximizing Spousal Benefits

Maximizing spousal benefits involves considering various strategies tailored to specific situations:

  • Strategy for Late Claimers: Waiting until full retirement age or even beyond can maximize spousal benefits. Delaying benefits results in a higher percentage of the primary earner’s benefit.
  • Strategy for Divorced Spouses: Divorced spouses may be eligible for spousal benefits if the marriage lasts 10 years. Waiting until full retirement age can enhance benefits, and divorced individuals can claim benefits even if their ex-spouse hasn’t applied.
  • Strategy for Widowed Spouses: Widowed spouses can maximize benefits by waiting until full retirement age or beyond. Claiming survivor benefits can be a strategic choice, and individuals can switch between their own and survivor benefits to optimize their overall income.
    These strategies underscore the importance of understanding the nuances of Social Security rules and making informed decisions based on individual circumstances.

How can a lawyer help you with Social Security Spousal Benefits?

A Social Security Disability Attorney can be instrumental in navigating the complexities of Social Security Spousal Benefits. (Learn more about what social security disability lawyers do? )

They can assist in determining eligibility, optimizing claiming strategies, and addressing specific situations like divorce or the death of a spouse.
Their expertise can be invaluable in making well-informed decisions that align with individual financial goals. Furthermore, they will guide you to pursue spousal social security benefits after death. 

FAQs on Spousal Social Security Benefits

Social Security spousal benefits allow eligible spouses to receive some of their partner's Social Security earnings. The amount is generally up to 50% of the higher-earning spouse's benefit.
Yes, you can collect half of your spouse's Social Security at 62, but the benefit amount is reduced. Waiting until your full retirement age (FRA) can maximize the spousal benefit.
The maximum spousal Social Security benefit is 50% of the higher-earning spouse's full retirement benefit amount.
To switch from your own Social Security benefit to a spousal benefit, you must be eligible for both benefits and coordinate with the Social Security Administration. It's advisable to consult with the SSA for a smooth transition.