When Can't a Parent Get Mother's or Father's Social Security Benefits?

In some situations, a parent is ineligible for mother's or father's Social Security dependents benefits.

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A parent whose spouse is disabled or has died may be eligible for certain benefits, including father’s and mother’s benefits. However, not all parents are eligible for these benefits. For starters, the disabled or deceased spouse must be or have been eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Here are the other requirements for getting mother's and father's benefits, and when a seemingly eligible parent can't get them.

“Child in Care”

You must have a “child in care” to qualify for parents’ benefits. To have a “child in care,” you must be taking care of a child under 16, or a disabled child of any age. Specifically, you must:

  • have parental control and responsibility for the health and wellbeing of a child under 16, or a mentally disabled child over 16, or
  • provide personal services for a physically disabled child over 16.

Parental Control and Responsibility and Personal Services

As discussed above, you must have “parental control and responsibility” of a child to be eligible for parents’ benefits. To have “parental control and responsibility” means that you:

  • show a strong interest in properly raising the child
  • oversee the child’s activities
  • are actively involved in making important decisions about the child’s physical needs and mental growth, and
  • have considerable control in the child’s rearing and development.

You provide personal service for a child when, on a regular basis, you:

  • clean, feed, or dress a physically disabled child
  • manage the activities of a physical disabled child who can’t manage funds, or who needs help to manage funds, or
  • have to be physically present with the child because of the nature of the disability.

Losing Parental Benefits

You will lose parental benefits if you no longer meet the “in-care” requirements discussed above. This can be a result of the child's age (nless a child is disabled, once a child turns 16 you no longer meet the “in-care” requirements) or because you stop living with your child and the separation between you and the child meets one of the additional criteria discussed below.

If you and the child do not live together, you will not be able to collect parental benefits under any of the following scenarios:

  • You have a mental disability.
  • You and your spouse separate or get a divorce and you lose or give up your right to either directly or indirectly control the child.
  • You lost care and custody of the child pursuant to a court order.
  • You gave up care and custody of the child to another person or agency.
  • The child is physically disabled and 16 years or older, and you have been separated from the child for more than six months.
  • The child is under the care of a court appointed guardian (who is someone other than you).

Temporary Separations

In some situations, you can still meet the “in-care” requirements even though you are temporarily separated from your child. You can meet the in-care requirements as long as:

  • you met the “in-care” requirements when you were living with the child
  • the child normally resides with you, and
  • none of the situations described in the above section apply to you.

Employment exception. If your child is under the age of 16, and your job causes you to be separated from the child indefinitely, or the separation is unlikely to end within six months, you can meet the “in-care” requirements if:

  • you still have “parental control and responsibility” (as described above), and
  • you contribute to the child’s financial care on a regular and substantial basis.

School exception. Even if your child attends school away from your home you may still meet the “in-care” requirements so long as:

  • the child is still under your care and control,

    and
  • the child spends at least 30 days of vacation time with you each year (unless for some reason the child cannot come home for vacation).

If you and the child’s other parent are separated, you can still meet the “in-care” requirements if the child usually stays with you during vacations, and you are the school's contact person if there are issues or questions about the child’s wellbeing.

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