The spousal benefit is a big part of the Social Security program. It enables the partner of a retiree claiming Social Security benefits to also receive Social Security even if they haven't worked and would not otherwise qualify for the program.
A spouse can claim a Social Security benefit that could be worth as much as half of their partner's primary insurance amount, which is the benefit a retiree would receive if they start collecting Social Security at their full retirement age. In certain scenarios, it can be even more than half.
And the spousal benefit does not reduce or come out of their partner's benefit, so it's really a win-win for the couple. Here are five ways for people to qualify for the spousal benefit.
1. Currently married spouses
The traditional way to qualify for the spousal benefit is to be married and nearing retirement. If your partner is retired and already collecting Social Security benefits, both of you have been legally married for a full year, and you are at least 62 years old, you would be eligible for the spousal benefit.
As mentioned above, the spousal benefit can be as much as half of your partner's benefit. But do keep in mind that if you start taking the spousal benefit at 62, you would likely only receive about 32.5% of your partner's benefit.
If you wait until your full retirement age, which is 66 if you were born in 1954 and 67 if you were born in 1960 or later, you can qualify for as much as 50%.
2. Divorced spouses who were married for a decade or more and at retirement age
Just because you are legally separated from your former spouse doesn't mean you don't qualify for the spousal benefit. To qualify when you are divorced, you must be 62 years old, have not remarried, and have been married to your former spouse for at least a decade.
You also need to have been divorced for at least two years. One nice thing is that even if your partner has not begun taking Social Security, as long as they qualify for the program, you can begin taking the benefits as long as you meet all of the other requirements.
If you happen to be eligible for Social Security, you can collect your spousal benefit or your own benefits -- whichever amount is higher.
3. Divorced spouses at any age with children under 16 or disabled
Divorced spouses with children can also qualify for a spousal benefit -- at any age. The child must be you and your partner's naturally born child, or one that the two of you legally adopted while you were married.
The child also must be younger than 16 years old or disabled. Divorced spouses do not need to have been married for 10 years before receiving this benefit. The spousal benefit, however, would only last until your child turns 16 or is no longer disabled.