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FAQ on Social Security Spouse Benefits

1.  How long must you be married to collect benefits when the spouse dies?

    Generally, a person can qualify for widow's or widower's benefits if he or she was married to the deceased worker for at least nine months just before the worker died.

      However, you do not need to be married to the worker for any specific length of time if:

  • You are the biological parent of the worker's biological child 
  • You legally adopted the worker’s child while you were married to him or her and before the child attained age 18;
  • You are the parent of a child who was legally adopted by the worker while you and the worker were married and before the child attained age 18
  • You and the worker were married and both of you legally adopted a child under age 18
  • The worker was married previously to an institutionalized spouse but was not allowed to divorce him or her under State law. After the spouse died, he or she married you within 60 days
  • You were married to the worker at the time his or her death and you had been married to and divorced from him or her before and the previous marriage lasted 9 months
  • The worker’s death occurred in the line of duty while he or she was a member of a uniformed service serving on active duty
  • The worker’s death was accidental. (Note: The worker’s death is considered “accidental” only if he or she received bodily injuries through violent, external and accidental means and as a direct result of the bodily injuries and independent of all other causes, died within 3 months after the day he or she received the injuries.)

    If the worker could not by any reason have been expected to live for nine months at the time you married him or her, then you cannot qualify for benefits in the above-mentioned last three conditions.

2.  How much can a divorced spouse receive?

    A man/woman who is divorced after at least 10 years of marriage keeps certain rights on benefits from their former husband/wife's Social Security record. In order for him/her to get the benefits, a divorced husband/wife must be at least 62 in age and the former spouse must be eligible for benefits, but not necessarily receiving them. The maximum benefit is 50% of the benefit the worker would receive at full retirement age. However, benefits paid prior to full retirement age of the spouse are reduced based upon the age of the spouse at the time benefits are received.

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