Social Security is a federal program to supplement income after retirement or to provide benefits for younger workers who become disabled. For married couples, each spouse’s earnings history forms the basis for the initial calculation. Under certain conditions, however, your spouse’s earnings may play a part in increasing your benefit. Regardless of whose earnings records enter into the calculation, spouses receive payments in their own names.
If one spouse had lower earnings or perhaps did not work during the marriage, the spouse with the lower earnings may receive spousal benefits of up to one-half of the other’s benefit amount. The spouse with the higher earnings must file for Social Security benefits first, and the other spouse must be at full retirement age or caring for a child younger than 16, or receive Social Security disability payments to receive the maximum benefits.
When an individual applies for reduced retirement benefits, the Social Security Administration automatically checks to see if he is eligible for benefits under his own earnings history, as well as spousal benefits. If eligible for both, he will receive his own benefit payment first, and, if qualified, he may receive an additional benefit so that the total payment is equal to what he would receive under spousal benefits alone.
Individuals who divorce after 10 or more years may be eligible to receive benefits based on the spouse’s earnings record. You must be 62 years of age or older and unmarried, and your former spouse must be receiving Social Security benefits or entitled to receive them. The Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, makes an exception to the rule regarding remarriage if you are at least 60 years of age when you remarry or 50 if you are disabled. If your spouse dies after the divorce, you may be able to receive survivor’s benefits.
The maximum retirement benefit an individual can receive from Social Security depends on the age at which the individual retires. For example, the maximum someone retiring in 2011 at the age of 66 is $2,366 per month.