How do spouse Social Security benefits work?


Quick Answer

The Social Security Administration offers spousal Social Security benefits to a spouse or former spouse of someone eligible for and receiving Social Security. In most cases, to qualify for spouse Social Security, spouses must not be eligible for higher benefits on their own and must be at least 62.

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Full Answer

A spouse or former spouse cannot qualify for benefits on a working spouse's records unless the working spouse qualifies for benefits. Workers must be 62 and have paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years to qualify for Social Security benefits. Spouses can qualify for up to 50 percent of a worker's benefits. As of 2015, the maximum retirement benefit for a worker retiring at full retirement age is $2,663 a month, which means a spouse is eligible for up to $1,331.50 a month.

Spouses eligible for their own Social Security benefits do not qualify for spousal Social Security if they are eligible for more than they'd get through spousal Social Security. If they are eligible for less, they get their Social Security and a portion of their spousal Social Security benefit. For example, if a spouse qualifies for $1,331.50 a month in spousal Social Security, but receives $1,100 a month in their own Social Security benefits, she'd receive $231.50 in spousal Social Security, making her monthly benefit $1,331.50.

Unmarried former spouses who are at least 62 qualify for spousal Social Security benefits as long as their marriage lasted for 10 years and their ex-spouse is at least 62. Former spouses also must prove that they'd earn more in Social Security based on their former spouse's work record than on their own work record. Former spouses qualify for spousal Social Security even if their former spouse has remarried, and spousal Social Security for a former spouse does not affect how much a worker and a current spouse gets.

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