Social Security benefits are a significant source of income for millions of retirees, so it pays to maximize them the best you can.

There are plenty of ways to boost your monthly checks, from working longer to delaying claiming to increasing your income. But there's another factor affecting your benefit amount that's easy to overlook: your marital status.

Retirees who are currently married or divorced could be entitled to hundreds of dollars more per month, even if they already qualify for Social Security. Here's how to see if you're eligible.

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Taking advantage of spousal benefits

Most people are familiar with retirement benefits, which are available to those who have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years. But regardless of whether you qualify for retirement benefits, you could also be entitled to spousal or divorce benefits.

Spousal benefits are available to those who are married to someone eligible for Social Security. You must currently be married to collect these benefits, and you also have to be at least 62 years old to begin claiming.

If you're divorced, you may be entitled to divorce benefits. To qualify, you cannot currently be married, and your previous marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years. In general, you'll also need to wait until your ex-spouse begins claiming before you can file, unless you've been divorced for at least two years.

Also, if your ex-spouse has remarried, it will not affect your ability to claim divorce benefits. It also won't affect their benefit amount or any payments their current partner may receive in spousal benefits.

How much can you receive?

As of March 2023, the average spousal benefit amount is around $898 per month, according to the Social Security Administration. However, your benefit amount will vary depending on a few factors.

For both spousal or divorce benefits, the maximum you can receive is 50% of the amount your spouse (or ex-spouse) is entitled to at their full retirement age (FRA). 

Also, you can still qualify for spousal or divorce benefits if you're already eligible for Social Security based on your own work record. However, you'll only receive the higher of the two amounts -- not both.

For example, say you're married and you both qualify for Social Security. You're eligible to collect $800 per month, and your spouse is entitled to $2,000 per month at their FRA. In this case, your monthly spousal benefit amount would be $1,000, and because that's the higher of the two amounts, that's how much you'd collect each month.

If, on the other hand, you were entitled to $1,200 per month based on your own earnings, that exceeds your maximum spousal benefit amount. So you would not qualify for this type of benefit at all.

One important caveat

The final factor to consider is the age you begin claiming. In all cases, you'll need to wait until your FRA to receive your full benefit amount. Your FRA will depend on your birth year, but it's age 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

If you file for spousal or divorce benefits before your FRA, your monthly payment will be permanently reduced by up to 30%.

Finally, keep in mind that any delayed retirement credits your spouse or ex-spouse may receive won't affect your benefit amount. If they choose to delay Social Security past their FRA, you'll still only collect a maximum of 50% of their full benefit amount.

Social Security can be complex and confusing, and there are a wide variety of benefits available. When you know which benefits you're entitled to, you can head into retirement as prepared as possible.