How To Qualify For Spousal Benefits (Married, Divorced, De-facto, or Registered Relationships)

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides payment benefits not just to retired workers but also spouses, ex-spouses, widows/widowers, and dependent children of workers. This means you may be eligible to claim spousal benefits even if you have never worked, if you are an ex-spouse/divorced, or you earned/worked significantly less than your spouse. Receiving the spousal benefit also won’t reduce the benefit your spouse receives either. Sounds pretty good, right? See if you qualify as we give you the rundown on eligibility criteria, how it works and how to apply for spousal benefits.


Social Security spousal benefits are monthly payments a spouse receives not because of their work history, but because of their spouse's work history. It is part of a worker’s retirement or disability benefit given to their spouse. Spousal benefits are based on the income earned during a qualifying worker’s life, as well as the retirement age of both the worker and their spouse. The SSA defines a “spouse” and “ex-spouses” as an individual who is/was legally married, or in a registered relationship, or in a de facto relationship. Eligibility criteria differ for existing spouses and ex-spouses.


Existing Spouses (married, de-facto or registered relationships).

To qualify for spousal benefits you must meet all of the following criteria:

  • You have been married for one year or more

  • Your spouse is currently receiving social security benefits (retirement or disability)

  • You are at least 62 years old or taking care of a child who is age16 or younger or has a disability, who is also the child of your spouse and who is also receiving Social Security benefits based on your spouse’s/ex-spouses work record.

Divorced Spouses/Ex-Spouses:

Unlike existing spouses, you can claim spousal benefits even if your ex-spouse hasn’t started collecting social security benefits. You also don’t need the consent of your ex-spouse to collect his benefits. If you’ve been divorced more than once, your benefit can be based on your highest-earning spouse if that relationship meets the eligibility criteria.

You may qualify for spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse's record (even when they have remarried) if:

  • You have been divorced for two years

  • You and your ex-spouse are age 62 or older, or you are taking care of a child who is age 16 or younger or disabled, who is the child of your spouse and who is also receiving Social Security benefits based on the spouse's work record

In all cases, your spouse/ex-spouse must still be living. If they are deceased, you may be eligible for Social Security Survivors Benefits.


Social Security Spousal Benefit payments can up to 50% of your spouse or ex-spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA). PIA is the amount of Social Security benefits that your spouse is entitled to at his or her full retirement age (which varies). If you’ve worked enough to qualify for your own Social Security retirement benefits, you will not get both spousal benefits and your own added together. Instead, SSA will pay you whichever benefit is higher.

Social security spousal benefits can provide a reliable and steady monthly income. However, many spouses or ex-spouses find the process overwhelming or don’t realize that they can access their financial entitlements based on their personal circumstances. For divorced, 69 -year- old, Maria Mendoza, accessing spousal benefits was life-changing. She was married for 20 years, had never worked, and was taken by surprise when her husband filed for divorce. He since re-married, and Ms. Mendoza struggled to make ends meet for years until she responded to a Benefits Access Support Instagram post stating, ex-spouses can qualify for benefits even if they have never worked. She completed the case review and worked with an experienced multi-lingual benefits advocate to have her claim approved within a few months. “God bless you Cynthia, Benefits Access Support, for changing my life by helping me access spousal benefits, that I didn’t even know I was eligible for,” said Ms. Mendoza.