Social Security Dependents Benefits for Spouses of Disability Recipients

If you’re getting disability, your spouse over 62 or caring for your child who’s under 16 or disabled is entitled to a Social Security spousal benefit.

Updated by Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

If you're collecting disability benefits, or are eligible for Social Security disability benefits, your spouse—even your ex-spouse—might qualify for dependent benefits. These "auxiliary" disability benefits are only for the spouses of those receiving SSDI, not SSI (Supplemental Security Income). To get these dependents benefits, your spouse must meet age requirements or care for your minor child.

Here's how Social Security's spousal benefits work, including who can qualify and how much your spouse could get.

How Can Your Spouse Qualify for Benefits When You're on Disability?

If you begin to receive SSDI benefits, your spouse might also be eligible for benefits based on your earnings. There are three ways your spouse can qualify.

Eligibility for SSDI Spousal Benefits Because of Age

When you're receiving SSDI, your spouse can qualify for a monthly benefit based on your earnings record if your spouse is 62 years old or older when you start receiving disability benefits. But if your spouse can get a higher benefit amount on their own work record, then they can't get dependents benefits on your record.

Your spouse can also receive widower(s) benefits after your death.

Qualifying for Spouse's Benefits by Caring for Your Minor Child

A spouse caring for your child(ren) under age 16 can qualify for dependent benefits even before turning 62. These are sometimes called "mother's or father's benefits" or "child-in-care" benefits. While your children's benefits continue until they're 18, your spouse's mother's or father's benefits will end when your youngest child turns 16.

But if eligible, at age 62, your spouse can receive spousal retirement benefits after the child turns 16. And note that the early retirement penalty doesn't apply to those caring for a child under 16—meaning spousal retirement benefits aren't reduced because of claiming mother's or father's benefits before full retirement age.

When Your Spouse Cares for Your Disabled Older Child

A spouse caring for a disability recipient's child over 16 can qualify for child-in-care benefits if the child is disabled. For your spouse to qualify this way, all of the following must be true:

  • The child has a physical or mental disability.
  • The child is collecting Social Security dependents benefits, and
  • Your spouse has parental control over and responsibility for the child.

Your spouse can qualify for child-in-care benefits, even if your child is over 18, for as long Social as Security considers the child disabled and eligible for "disabled adult child" benefits. If your child is 22 or older, their disability must have begun before age 22 for them to qualify for adult child benefits (and for your spouse to qualify for the benefits).

How Much Can Your Spouse Get in Social Security Benefits?

If your spouse is receiving spousal retirement benefits, your spouse is entitled to up to 50% of your monthly SSDI benefit amount, subject to a family maximum amount. So, if you have children who are also collecting benefits, your spouse's benefit amount might be reduced to fit within the family maximum. The family benefit limit for SSDI benefits is equal to 150% of the disabled worker's benefit amount.

If your spouse is eligible for benefits based on their own earnings record—like retirement benefits, Social Security will pay those benefits first. But if the amount your spouse is entitled to based on your record is higher, the SSA will combine the benefits to ensure your spouse receives the higher amount.

A spouse who is receiving mother's or father's benefits is entitled to 75% of your monthly SSDI benefit amount, subject to the family maximum.

Are Spousal Retirement Benefits Reduced?

Receiving SSDI spousal benefits between 62 and full retirement age triggers an early retirement penalty. Social Security will permanently reduce all future benefits your spouse receives on your work record. The size of the reduction depends on the number of months between when the benefits began and when your spouse will reach full retirement age. (Full retirement age is 67 for anyone born in 1962 or later.)

Note that SSDI mother's or father's benefits based on caring for your child aren't subject to the early retirement penalty.

If your spouse works while collecting benefits based on your work record, Social Security might take away some of the SSDI spousal benefits. If your spouse is younger than full retirement age and earns over the limit of $22,320 in 2024 ($1,860 per month), Social Security reduces the spouse's benefit by $1 for every $2 earned over the limit.

SSDI Dependents Benefit for Former Spouses

If you had a marriage that ended in divorce, your former spouse might still be eligible for benefits based on your work earnings. The marriage must have lasted at least ten years, and your ex-spouse must:

  • be at least 62 years old
  • not be married (with some exceptions discussed below), and
  • not able to get benefits based on their own earnings record (or someone else's) that are more than or equal to benefits based on your record.

Sometimes, remarrying won't render your ex-spouse ineligible for benefits. If your former spouse later marries someone eligible for Social Security benefits (including parent's or widow(er)'s benefits), it won't affect the spousal benefits your ex can receive.

Eligible divorced spouses are entitled to the same monthly benefit amount as married spouses—generally 50% of the SSDI recipient's monthly benefit. And like your current spouse, your ex-spouse can qualify for survivor's benefits.

Also, note that an ex-spouse's benefits are excluded from the family maximum benefit calculation. That means whatever benefits your former spouse gets based on your earnings record won't affect the benefit amount that you or your current spouse and children can receive.

How Do You Apply for SSDI Spousal Benefits?

Your spouse must contact Social Security to apply for spousal benefits by phone or in person at your local Social Security office. The SSA's phone number is 800-772-1213.

Social Security will ask for your spouse's Social Security number (SSN) and birth certificate. Your spouse will also have to provide your marriage certificate and information about any prior marriages.

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