When family members are financially dependent on a disabled worker who's eligible to receive Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, they can often receive family benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) calls these benefits "dependents benefits" or "auxiliary benefits."
Dependents benefits are only available to your family members if you're qualified for SSDI benefits. Family benefits don't apply to those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits.
If you're an SSDI beneficiary, most of your immediate family members can qualify for dependents' benefits, including your:
How much your dependent family members can receive depends on how much SSDI you're receiving, how big your family is, and other factors. The total amount is limited by what Social Security calls the "maximum family benefit."
If you're receiving SSDI, each of your family members could be eligible for a monthly Social Security benefit of 50-100% of your monthly disability benefit. The specific percentage each family member can get depends on the type of benefit received (dependent benefits or survivor benefits) and whether the family member is your:
But Social Security puts a limit to the total amount of benefits paid to family members. The limit comes into play if you have two or more family members claiming benefits on your earnings record.
The limit depends on the amount of benefits you're receiving (as a disabled worker) and the number of family members requesting benefits based on your qualifying earnings. In general, the most you and your family can receive—your maximum family benefit (MFB) is 150% of your disability benefit amount.
The SSDI benefits of the disabled worker are never reduced when a family member applies for dependents benefits (20 C.F.R. § 404.404). So, even if you're divorced and responsible for paying child support and your child applies for Social Security dependents' benefits, it won't affect your monthly SSDI payment amount.
Benefits paid to a divorced spouse or a surviving divorced spouse based on disability or older age aren't counted toward the maximum family benefit (C.F.R. § 404.403(a)(3)).
But that's not true for an ex-spouse who is only eligible for benefits based on taking care of your minor or disabled children (called mother's or father's benefits). Any mother's or father's benefits your ex-spouse receives will count toward the maximum family benefit. (And that's the only way an ex-spouse who is under age 60 and who is not disabled can receive benefits based on your work record.)
The maximum family benefit is different in each case. Typically, the total for the whole family, including the disabled or retired worker's monthly benefit, is between 150% and 180% of the disabled or retired worker's benefit amount. But only for retirement benefits or survivor benefits can the family maximum be above 150% of the disabled worker's benefit.
If your family receives benefits based on your SSDI disability income, Social Security uses a separate method to calculate the amount of your maximum family benefit (20 C.F.R. § 404.403(d1)). The formula is based on three rules:
These rules might seem complicated and contradictory. Here's a simpler way to think about it: Your maximum family benefit is 85% of your AIME or 150% of your SSDI benefit amount, whichever is less.
If the total amount of Social Security benefits payable to your family is more than the maximum family benefit, each person's benefit is reduced proportionately (except yours, as the disabled worker), until the total amount you and your family members receive equals the family maximum.
Most of your dependent family members will likely be eligible for benefits. But there are certain conditions each must meet.
Your spouse could be eligible for benefits based on your work record if you're receiving SSDI and your spouse is:
Your ex-spouse might be entitled to benefits based on your earnings record if the marriage between you lasted at least ten years before your divorce, and your ex-spouse:
Your child could be eligible for dependent benefits based on your work record if the child is:
When a worker dies, the worker's family members and even parents can sometimes get survivor benefits. To be eligible, a parent must have been financially dependent on the deceased worker and:
For more eligibility information, see our article on Social Security dependent and spouse benefits.
Updated September 7, 2023