Social Security retirement benefits are a crucial social safety net for most working adults. After a lifetime of career contributions, working adults can eventually receive regular payments to help cover their retirement cost of living expenses.
However, you have to work for years to qualify for Social Security. Workers accrue at most four credits a year, and claimants typically need 40 credits to get benefits. If you were a dependent spouse who stayed home to raise children and take care of the household, you may never have worked for long enough to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits on your own.
Your spouse accrued benefits, but you have divorced them or they have died. Do you have a right to claim benefits when you reach retirement age?
As a widow/widower
Dependent spouses who reach retirement age after their partner dies can potentially receive 100% of the retirement benefits that their spouse accrued during their life. In fact, someone whose spouse died young or retired without much work history can potentially still qualify for benefits. Dependent spouses can receive benefits starting at 60 or 62.
As a divorcee
If your marriage ended in divorce rather than death, you did not forfeit your right to Social Security retirement benefits after years of supporting your spouse in their career by managing your house and your family.
You have the right to claim their Social Security benefits if you have never worked to accrue your own. You can also claim some benefits in their name if you have qualified for Social Security but not the same amount that they have.
There need be no guilt on your part if you claim benefits as a retiring dependent ex-spouse. Your claim will in no way reduce the benefits that your ex receives. You typically need to be 62 to claim benefits as a divorcee and must remain unmarried to continue receiving them.
Social Security benefits on their own often are not enough to fund retirement, but they can be enough to make retirement more comfortable when you only have minimal assets set aside. Learning more about your rights as a dependent spouse can help you plan for your golden years after losing your spouse or getting divorced.