Aug 22, 2014 | WC & Other Laws

When an employee files for retirement benefits, their spouse may be eligible for a benefit based on the employee’s earnings, but what happens when the worker dies, the couple divorces or when one spouse is disable? The world of social security can feel much like a mouse maze if not navigated with correct information.

Spouses are eligible for benefits based on the worker’s earnings.  In order to receive benefits, the spouse must be at full retirement age (62) or have children under the age of 16.  Even if your spouse has never worked, never contributed to social security themselves and even if you’re no longer married, they can be eligible for benefits.

Divorced Spouses: Along with the furniture, cars and linens, social security is also split 50/50 in a divorce.  Ex-spouses are all entitled to 50% of the benefit earned by their working partner.  In order to get this benefit, you must have been married for more than 10 years, remain unmarried currently and over the age of 62.  In addition, in order to be eligible for divorced spousal benefits, you must be certain that the benefit you would be entitled to individually, based on your own work history, is less than the amount you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s record.  For stay-at-home mom’s and dad’s, their benefits are not deducted, even if they never paid into the social security system.

Widowed Spouses: When one spouse dies, so long as the marriage was at least 9 months long, the remaining spouse is eligible for a Widows benefit.  These benefits are available to all widows regardless of age, but those who are under 62 and working are required to submit an “earnings test” to determine what their current income is.  If widows earn more than a certain amount, social security withholds 50% in excess of the annual limit which is currently $14,640. If you make more than twice that, the widow’s benefit is basically wiped out.  In this case, the widow must wait until he or she is at full retirement age and reapply when there is no earnings test.  At that point, widows can receive EITHER the full benefit earned by the work history of their deceased spouse OR the benefit earned by themselves in the workforce, but NOT both.

 Disabled Spouses:  In order to receive disability benefits, you must have held a job for a minimum amount of time prior to the point at which you were disabled.  The specific time length is dependent upon your age and other factors.  However, some spouses have not been able to work for many years, and for these people there is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a separate program issued through the Social Security Administration which provides income to individuals with low income who are disabled, regardless of the age at which they became disabled.

It is important to understand that if your spouse will receive a pension for work not covered by Social Security such as a teacher, postal employee, or foreign employment, the amount of his or her Social Security benefits on your record may be reduced. However, benefits paid to your spouse will not decrease your own retirement benefit. The same is held true for divorced spouses, their portion will not decrease the portion you and your current spouse and/or family will receive.

Do you have questions about how and if you qualify for spousal social security?  We can help you determine your benefits.  Contact us here to get help navigating the maze!