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Spouse Defined

Excerpted from "Social Security Handbook". See the up-to-date, official Social Security Handbook at

306. Spouse Defined

306.1 What is the definition of "spouse" for Social Security purposes?

You are considered a spouse for Social Security purposes if you meet the conditions in either (A) or (B) below at the time you apply for benefits:

  1. Under applicable law:

    1. You and the worker were validly married; or

    2. You would have the status of a husband or a wife with respect to the taking of intestate personal property;

  2. You entered into a ceremonial marriage with the worker that was invalid under applicable law because of an impediment resulting from a prior marriage or its dissolution; or a defect in the procedure followed in connection with the alleged marriage, provided:

    1. You married the worker in good faith, not knowing of any defect at the time of the marriage;

    2. You were living with the worker in the same household when he or she applied for benefits (unless you were divorced from the worker at the time); and

    3. For benefits payable prior to January 1991, there is no other person who is or was entitled to monthly insurance benefits on the worker's earnings record as his or her spouse and who still has status as the worker's spouse.

306.2 What is "applicable law"?

Applicable law is the law that would be applied by the courts of:

  1. The State where the insured person was domiciled when you filed for benefits; or

  2. The law applied by the District of Columbia if the insured person was not domiciled in any State when you filed for benefits.

Last Revised: March, 2001

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There are 6 Comments

I married for a seond time 2012/05/25. Is my new wife entitled to a benefit.

You don't mention which benefit this is for (retirement, disability, retirement, SSI etc.) so you will want to check with the SSA for your particular case.

In general, for retirement and disability, your new wife should qualify for benefits based on your work record. The amount of retirement benefits your divorced spouse gets has no effect on the amount of benefits you or your current spouse may receive.

For survivor benefits, 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, there are some exceptions.

My husband past away at the age of 70. He's receiving his social security but now that he's gone. Will I be eligible to receive his social security benefits? I'm only 58 and I don't have a job due to the fact that I'm a stay home wife. Can I please get some advice on this?

You'll want to contact the SSA directly for your case, but you'll likely qualify for survivor's benefits on your husband's record.

If you are the widow or widower of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, you can receive full survivor benefits at full retirement age for survivors or reduced benefits as early as age 60. If you are disabled you can receive survivor benefits as early as age 50.

I was married to my ex husband for almost 12 years. He passed away last year and recently I was to ld that I might be elegihle for his full social security benefit. I draw social security now but believe that his benefit would be larger than what I am drawing now. Can I apply fpr tjat benefit?KMMck

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