Disabled workers who've earned enough Social Security work credits can qualify for monthly Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits. And sometimes their spouses can collect a monthly benefit as well.
To be eligible for spousal benefits—that is, SSDI benefits based on the earnings record of your disabled spouse (or disabled ex-spouse), one of the following must be true:
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If you've been married for at least a year to a husband or wife who receives Social Security disability benefits, you can also get Social Security benefits if you're at least 62 years old. But your eligibility for spousal disability benefits will end if you become eligible to receive significantly higher Social Security benefits on your own work record.
Even though you're allowed to collect benefits at age 62, if you collect spousal benefits before you reach full retirement age (66 or 67), you'll be hit with the early retirement penalty. This penalty doesn't apply if:
If you were married for at least a year to a disabled worker who died while receiving Social Security disability benefits, as the surviving spouse, you can get benefits in either of these circumstances:
This benefit is sometimes called the widow or widower's benefit. Note that your surviving spouse's benefits will end if you become eligible to receive significantly higher Social Security benefits on your own work record. And if you remarry before you turn 60 (50 if you're disabled), your Social Security spousal benefits will be denied.
If you're divorced, but you were married for at least ten years to a disabled husband or wife who's collecting SSDI befits, you can get a divorced spouse's retirement benefit if you're at least 62 years old.
If your ex-spouse was a disabled worker who died while receiving SSDI benefits, you're entitled to divorced spouse's survivors benefits, but only if you were married to your ex for at least ten years and one of the following applies to you:
But if you remarry before you turn 60, Social Security will deny your benefits unless:
When an insured worker becomes disabled or dies while collecting SSDI, as that worker's spouse (or divorced spouse), you can get benefits if you care for at least one of the disabled worker's children. To qualify, the child in your care must be under the age of 16 or disabled (with a disability that began before the child turned 22).
These benefits are sometimes known as "mother's or father's benefits." In the case of a divorced spouse, the ten-year rule doesn't apply if you're applying for mother's or father's benefits. But other restrictions do apply.
For instance, if you're collecting benefits based on caring for a child younger than 16 and you work at the same time, you could lose some of your SSDI spousal benefits. Social Security will reduce your benefits if your earned income for the year is more than the preset limit.
For 2023, the limit is $21,240 per year ($1,770 per month). If you earn more, your spousal benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over the limit. For high earners, this means your Social Security benefit will disappear. (And note that when you reach full retirement age, Social Security won't recalculate your benefit amount to take into account the amounts you lost because of this earnings rule, as it would with folks working while receiving early retirement benefits.)
If you continue to care for a child after age 16 and the child is disabled, you might be eligible to continue getting Social Security payments. To continue benefits, you must explain to Social Security that:
Note: If you're caring for a disabled child over the age of 22, the child must have become disabled before reaching age 22. For more information on eligibility, see our article on mother's and father's benefits.
If your husband or wife is a disabled worker getting SSDI, you'll generally receive 50% of your spouse's primary insurance amount (the amount of your husband or wife's monthly SSDI check). For example, if your husband is disabled and receives $1,400 per month, you can get $700 per month. But if the disabled worker's children are collecting benefits at the same time, Social Security can reduce the amount of your spouse's benefit. That's because there's a limit on how much a family can collect in SSDI benefits.
The total of all the benefits your family receives (including the disabled worker's SSDI) can't be more than the maximum family benefit (MFB) allowed by Social Security—generally 150% of the disabled worker's monthly SSDI benefit. And Social Security will trim the spouse's and children's benefits to bring your family's total down to the MFB, but won't change the amount of the disabled worker's SSDI payments.
(Note that the benefits paid to a divorced spouse based on being over 60 or disabled aren't counted toward the maximum family benefit and won't affect a current spouse's or child's benefit amount. However, the mother's or father's benefits paid to a divorced spouse do count toward the MFB.)
If you're a surviving spouse (or surviving divorced spouse), the amount you'll receive depends on how old you are and whether you're taking care of the deceased worker's children. The amount varies between 75% and 100% of the deceased worker's monthly SSDI benefit.
In addition, if your spouse was a disabled worker who died while receiving Social Security benefits, you're entitled to receive a lump-sum death benefit worth a few hundred dollars ($255), if you were living in the same household when your spouse died.
If your husband or wife's disability claim has already been approved, call the Social Security Administration (SSA) at 800-772-1213 or contact your local Social Security field office to apply for the spouse's SSDI benefit. You must provide Social Security with the following:
If you're applying for a survivor benefit based on a deceased spouse or ex-spouse's earnings record, you'll also need to provide a death certificate or other proof of death from the funeral home.
(Learn more about Social Security dependent benefits.)
Updated January 24, 2023
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