Social Security spousal benefits are partial retirement or disability benefits granted to the spouses of qualifying taxpayers. 

Qualifying for Spousal Benefits

To qualify for either type of spousal benefit, you must be at least 62 years old or caring for a child of the primary beneficiary. This exception only applies to spouses caring for children who are under the age of 16 or disabled.

Disability Benefits

In addition to the above work requirement, your spouse must also have a qualifying disease or disability and be actively collecting for you to qualify for spousal disability benefits.

Spousal disability benefits cannot exceed 50% of your qualifying spouse's benefit. However, your dependent children may also qualify for benefits under your spouse's account. The maximum family benefits varies but is generally between 150 and 180% of your spouse's benefit amount.

Retirement Benefits

Starting on May 1, 2016, spouses were no longer able to collect spousal retirement benefits under their qualifying spouse's account unless the qualifying spouse was actively collecting benefits. This is a change: Under a policy called "file and suspend," qualifying spouses used to be able to initiate a claim (so that their spouse could start getting spousal benefits), but then elect to have payment suspended, thereby increasing their own eventual benefit amount through the accrual of delayed retirement credits. Now, as with disability, the qualifying spouse must be receiving benefits in order for his/her partner to get spousal benefits.

The one exception is that a divorced spouse whose marriage lasted 10 years or more may apply for spousal benefits whether or not his/her ex-husband has filed. Click here for more details.

Another benefit younger retirees lost starting in 2016: A married or divorced spouse born before January 2, 1954, who has reached full retirement age can still choose to collect only the spousal benefit and wait until a later age to receive his/her full retirement benefit. This option does not exist for younger people.  

Spousal benefits cannot exceed 50% of your qualifying spouse's benefit amount at full retirement age. If you begin collecting spousal benefits before you reach your own full retirement age, your benefit amount is permanently reduced to compensate for the additional months of collection. The closer to full retirement age you are when you begin collecting, the higher the percentage of the maximum benefit you receive, up to the 50% limit.