Spousal Social Security Issues

The entire set of laws relating to social security come under those rules and regulations known as entitlements. Specifically, this means that both a husband and wife are individually and separately entitled to benefits as long as they each have qualified as to the requirements of the entitlement regulations. Generally, the working spouse is eligible once there are more than twenty calendar quarters paid into the Social Security fund during the working lifetime. A spouse is entitled if he or she was married to the working spouse for more than ten years. Had the spouse worked and qualified for twenty quarters, he or she would be entitled in their own right. The question then becomes the amount of the benefit. As a married individual, the spouse once qualified, will be entitled to the higher of either the benefit of his/her own earnings, or a percentage of the working spouses benefit.

There is one major caveat to keep in mind is that should the auxiliary spouse as the non-working spouse is called, remarry at anytime after a divorce, the auxiliary spouse’s benefit stops upon the remarriage. There are very specific rules that relate to this issue. Once an auxiliary spouse’s new spouse passes away, and the marriage lasted less than ten years, the auxiliary spouse once again qualifies for benefits from the first marriage. This rule also applies if there is a subsequent divorce from the second marriage partner.

The following chart indicates the percentages of benefits that can be obtained at each age:


Wage Earner














Either spouse can elect to take early benefits, currently at age 62. The election to take early benefits does not effect the benefit of the other spouse in most cases. Generally, if the nonworking spouse is younger than the working spouse, there will be no effect. Only in the situation where the nonworking spouse is older than the working spouse will there be issues in regards to changes in benefits. The rule actually relates as to when a claimant can obtain benefits. The auxiliary spouse must wait until such time as the wage earner reaches age 62 before obtaining any benefits.

In those instances where a divorce has taken place a question does arise as to whether one spouse can obtain information regarding a divorced or separated spouse’s collection of benefits. This information is protected under the Federal Privacy Act. This means that technically that no one other than those government agencies allowed access to such information could obtain such information. In practice, this information can be obtained in several ways, the easiest of which is to do the reverse mathematics from the chart above to determine what the ex-spouse’s benefits are based upon the auxiliary spouse’s benefit. The auxiliary spouse cannot determine whether a former spouse is or is not receiving benefits by reverse calculating the benefit, only what the benefit would be in any given instance.

The Social Security laws and regulations are very complex. This information is being supplied as a supplemental guide to certain general rules. Those who have specific questions can call us to determine how their specific set of circumstances will affect their benefits, and benefit rights. The content of this article is in no way to be considered advice or counsel directly or indirectly for any given individual, but merely for general information purposes. Anyone with questions are encouraged to seek their own counsel as to issues and events as those issues relate to their specific situation. We are of course more than willing to help guide anyone who may require our assistance. We can be reached at (818)346-2160, or by leaving a message at our website.

Should you have any questions regarding these matters, please feel free in calling us to discuss any or all of the items enumerated herein.