Retirement Benefit on Spouse or Former Spouse's Record

Retirement Benefit on Spouse or Former Spouse’s Record

Social Security Retirement benefits are the benefit that most of us think of when we think of “Social Security” and it is by far the biggest income program run by the Social Security Administration. Retirement benefits are paid to older adults and for many,  these benefits are the primary source of income as they age.

When an individual retires or becomes disabled,  his or her spouse may draw up to one-half of the retired or disabled worker’s benefit. Spouses can begin receiving a spousal benefit on a retired or disabled spouse’s account at the age of 62 or later. If the spouse is eligible for both his or her own retirement benefits and benefits as a spouse, the spouse will get his or her own retirement benefits first. If the spousal benefit is greater, he or she will get a combination of the two benefits that equals the greater amount.

Funding Source

Retirement benefits of a spouse on a retired worker’s record are paid by the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund.  Retirement benefits of a spouse on a disabled worker’s record are paid by the Disability Insurance Fund.    Funds are collected through employer and employee contributions, commonly known as “FICA taxes” “payroll taxes” or “Social Security taxes”. Funds are allocated to Old-Age and Survivor’s Insurance this Fund and the Disability Insurance Fund and that allocation is set by law. Over the years, Congress has changed this allocation to account to assure continued solvency of either fund.

In 2012, individuals pay 4.2% of their earnings up to $110,100 and employers pay 6.2% of the individual income up to the same amount. The 2% differential, known as the “payroll tax holiday”, is set to expire after 2011 and individuals will pay 6.2% again. In 2012, self-employed individuals pay 10.4% of their earnings, down 2% as well. The “payroll tax holiday” is currently being funded by general revenues.


Current Spouse
  • Age 62 or older
  • Married to an individual who is collecting SSA retirement  on his or her own record or has “filed and suspended” such benefits (See “Retirement Benefits on Own Account” for eligibility criteria)
  • Married to an individual who is collecting SSA disability on his or her own record.
Former Spouse
  • Age 62 or older
  • Unmarried
  • Married to former spouse for at least 10 years
  • If divorced for at least 2 years and worker and ex-spouse both at least 62, ex-spouse can get benefits even if worker has not retired.

How Benefit Amount is Calculated

The SSA Retirement benefit is determined by two factors: the amount earned during the working career and when the individual chooses to start receiving benefits. Once that amount has been determined, the spouse or ex-spouse who is eligible to draw from the SSA account can receive a check for up to 50% of the worker’s benefit.   The percentage payable to the spouse is reduced if he or she is under full retirement age.