Length of Marriage Varies for SS Benefits

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By Jeff Young


I am often asked how long one must be married (or have been married) to receive Social Security benefits. The answer, as is common in Social Security claiming matters, is: “It depends.” It depends upon whether those benefits are spousal benefits; as a wife or husband, widow or widower for survivor benefits, a divorced person for ex-spousal benefits or ex-spousal survivor benefits.

To receive spousal benefits, usually defined as 50% of one’s spouse’s benefit at Full Retirement Age (FRA), which is usually age 66 to 67, one only needs to have been married for one year prior to claiming.

To receive Survivor Benefits, usually defined as 100% of what the deceased spouse was receiving or would have received, the requirement is nine months of marriage. (The exception to this rule is if the death was caused by an accident or in military action.) In the case of a younger person dying, leaving a young spouse and perhaps children, there are accommodations made by the Social Security Administration for these circumstances, given a lifetime of working was cut short.

Lastly, to receive ex-spousal benefits (50% of your ex-spouses benefit at FRA – Full Retirement Age) or ex-spousal survivor benefits (100% of benefits), one would need to have been married for ten years, divorced for at least two years and not remarried prior to age 60.

Please keep in mind that the above generalizations are made simple for the sake of brevity. Underlying circumstances for each person could differ based upon a variety of factors; too numerous to list in this synopsis. These are general guidelines and each person is encouraged to seek professional consultation prior to making a decision on claiming Social Security.


Jeff Young is a financial planner for First Financial Equity Corporation in Scottsdale, AZ. He presents “Understanding the Basics of Social Security and Medicare” at the Arizona School of Real Estate and Business in Scottsdale from 9-11:30 a.m. on the first Friday of each month. He can be reached at jcyoung@ffec.com.