Social Security Benefits for Spouses

Social Security benefits help individuals and their families maintain a steady income after retirement. Whether you’re nearing retirement age or  planning ahead, understanding your benefits is important for making the most out of your retirement years. This blog will help address common FAQs and steps to consider when setting up your benefits.

What is Social Security?

Social Security is a federal program that provides financial assistance to eligible retirees, disabled individuals, and survivors. Social Security replaces a percentage of your pre-taxed income earned over a lifetime. The amount of your average earnings depends on your lifetime contributions and when you choose to elect to receive your benefits. At the full retirement age (67 years old), you can collect 100% of your earned benefits. While you may be able to collect sooner, it is important to know there are penalties for doing so. To understand more about the risk for early collection or to calculate your future earnings, refer to this Quick Calculator resource from the Social Security Administration. 

What are Spousal Benefits?

When a retiree applies for benefits, the retiree’s spouse may be entitled to an income-based retirement benefit. Some requirements can limit and determine eligibility and the amount the recipient may be entitled to. Below are several eligibility requirements: 

  • Must be married for a minimum of one year
  • If the spouse qualifies for their benefits, theirs will be paid out first
  • They may begin receiving benefits by the age of 62 (with a percentage penalty reduction) until the full retirement age
  • If the spouse works while receiving benefits, the earnings may affect their benefits.
  • The spouse is only entitled to the greater of their individual benefits but not both
  • Spousal benefits cannot be claimed until the higher-earning spouse files

Can a Spouse Collect Benefits After Death?

A surviving spouse can collect Social Security benefits after the death of their spouse. These benefits are known as Survivor Benefits. Survivor benefits can be claimed as early as age 60 (age 50 if you are disabled), but claiming them before the full retirement age will result in a reduced benefit amount. The benefit amount for survivor benefits can be as much as 100% if the beneficiary waits until the full retirement age.

What Happens to Spousal Benefits in a Divorce?

In the event of a divorce, an ex-spouse may be eligible to receive the former spouse’s social security benefits. There are several stipulations for eligibility including:

  • Married for a minimum of ten years
  • The recipient must be 62 years or older
  • The ex-spouse must be unmarried

If these requirements are met, they may still be eligible to receive benefits. Notably, if your ex-spouse’s benefit is higher than yours, your claim does not reduce or affect the benefit amount your ex-spouse or their current spouse can receive.

You must also be divorced for a minimum of two years before you can claim benefits unless your former spouse already receives benefits. This applies even if your former spouse is entitled to benefits but has not yet claimed them. It is also important to note that if you marry again, you will not be able to collect benefits on your ex’s record unless your subsequent marriage is dissolved (e.g., through death, divorce, or annulment).

Spouses in Illinois may receive Social Security benefits during retirement and upon the death of a spouse. Ensuring you meet the eligibility criteria, understanding the benefits, and carefully timing your claim are all essential to maximizing this resource. You can ensure a more financially stable retirement in Illinois by navigating the Social Security system effectively, whether you’re a spouse seeking benefits based on your partner’s work history or a widow or widower seeking survivor benefits. For additional questions regarding Social Security benefits for you and your spouse in the event of divorce, contact Sterk Family Law.


This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.

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