Fairfax Social Security Lawyer: The Definitive Guide to Social Security Spousal Benefits

As a Fairfax Social Security lawyer, I am frequently asked about Social Security Spousal Benefits.  They can be very confusing, but here is all you need to know.

When a spouse stays at home to raise children, their income can be severely limited. But that doesn’t mean their retirement is lost.

Married people with little earnings history, or even no earnings history at all, can qualify for the Social Security Spousal Benefit.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) lets the spouse with little or no earnings history claim a retirement benefit that’s equal to half of the Social Security benefit their spouse would receive at full retirement age (FRA).

There are, of course, a few conditions that have to be met in order to qualify:

Currently Married Couples:

  1. The spouse with little or no earnings history must be at least age 62.  (Yet full retirement age is 66 or 67 for most people.  So if a person chooses to take a spousal benefit at age 62, they will only get 70% of the benefit they would get at their full retirement age of either 66 or 67);
  2.  Only one member of the couple can claim the spousal benefit;
  3. You can’t claim your own Social Security Retirement benefit and half of your spouse’s;
  4. Your spouse must be receiving their Social Security Retirement benefit in order for you to take the spousal benefit.  (This is a new policy that went into effect May 1, 2016 that states your spouse must be receiving their Social Security benefit in order for you to take the spousal benefit.  That’s different than in past years, when the “file and suspend” approach was available);
  5. You must be married for at least 12 months to claim the spousal benefit; and
  6. If you’re still working and you elect to take the spousal benefit before your Full Retirement Age, you may have to settle for less, temporarily.  (You are penalized with a $1 reduction in benefits for every $2 you earn above a limit of $16,920 annually. However, any money that’s taken away will be repaid back to you via your monthly benefit when you either stop working or reach your Full Retirement Age.)

Divorced Couples:

As long as your marriage lasted 10 years and you’ve been divorced for two years, you too can claim the spousal benefit.  (Both you and your ex-spouse must be at least 62.  And if you’re married again before age 60, you will be denied the spousal benefit from your prior marriage.)

 Widows and Widowers:

If you’re 60 and your marriage to your late spouse lasted at least nine months, then instead of receiving half of your deceased spouse’s Social Security Retirement, you can get 100% of their benefit when you file at your full retirement age.  (Yet, full retirement age is 66 or 67 for most people.  So if a person chooses to take a spousal benefit at age 60, they will get a reduced benefit amount then what they would get at their full retirement age of either 66 or 67.)  This is a rare example of a time when you can claim a Social Security benefit of any kind before age 62.