Many people know that they're eligible for Social Security benefits, but did you know that 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 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 automatically apply for spousal benefits. This 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 benefits of their own.1,2
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.1,2
How does claiming spousal benefits work? For spouses 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 Social Security benefits.
- You and your spouse must have been married for at least one year.1,2
It's important to note that if your spouse dies, you should apply for survivor benefits and not spousal benefits. 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.3,4
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 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, you'll want to explore your options on how best to take advantage of the program and maximize your benefits.
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