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Social Security benefits for spouses equal up to 50% of the other spouse's (or ex-spouse's) Social Security retirement benefit. The minimum required marriage length depends on whether the filer is married, caring for a dependent child or divorced. There are also age requirements.
Spousal Social Security benefits can help if you've earned significantly less income than your spouse during your working years.
» Dive deeper: Social Security Explained
If you're married and not caring for a child
Even if you never worked at a job where Social Security tax was withheld, you may still be able to claim a spousal Social Security benefit. To qualify, you must:
Be married for at least one year.
Be at least 62 years old.
Have a spouse already receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
If you qualify for your own Social Security benefits, you can still be eligible for additional spousal benefits if you meet the above requirements. In this case, the Social Security Administration pays your personal benefit first. Then, if your spousal benefit is higher than that amount, you'll receive an additional payment that will make your total benefit equal to the higher benefit.
If you claim benefits before your full retirement age or are still working when you apply, you may receive a reduced amount unless you care for a qualifying dependent child. However, if your spouse delays filing for a bigger payout, your spousal benefits won't be larger because of their delay.
If you're married or divorced with a dependent child
If you and your spouse are still caring for a qualifying dependent, eligibility requirements for spousal Social Security are less strict:
You can be married for any amount of time as long as you and your spouse are the child's biological parents.
You can receive the benefit at any age, not just 62.
Your child must be under the age of 16 or have become disabled before the age of 22 and be eligible for benefits.
If you're divorced and not caring for a child
Even if your marriage ended long ago, and your ex has since remarried, you may still be able to claim spousal Social Security — without having to notify your ex.
Your spousal divorce benefit won't be affected if your ex remarries, and claiming a spousal benefit won't affect the Social Security benefit your ex (or their current spouse) receives. In addition, if your ex-spouse has died since your divorce, you may qualify for Surviving Divorced Spouse's Benefits.
You can be eligible for spousal Social Security when divorced if:
You were married for at least 10 years.
You are at least 62 years old.
You are currently unmarried (Your ex can be remarried, though).
Your ex is already receiving or entitled to Social Security or disability benefits.
If your ex hasn't yet claimed their available benefit, you have been divorced for at least two continuous years.
The benefit your ex is receiving (or entitled to receive) is greater than the benefit on your record.
Social Security will pay the amount on your record first, then add the amount you're entitled to on your ex's record. So you'll receive a higher combined benefit, but not two full benefits at once.
If you were born before Jan. 2, 1954, and have reached full retirement age, you can begin claiming your spousal Social Security first and claim your own benefit later. Those born Jan. 2, 1954, or later must file for both personal retirement and spousal benefits at the same time.
To apply for your personal and spousal Social Security benefits:
File on the Social Security website if you're within three months of your 62nd birthday or older. (Be sure to check the boxes for both retirement and family benefits).
Call the SSA's national toll-free service at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778).
Visit your local Social Security office (an appointment is recommended).
You may need to provide a copy of your marriage certificate or divorce decree to receive spousal benefits, though the SSA recommends not sending any documents unless requested.