Can my spouse and children get benefits if I am approved for Social Security disability?Updated April 11, 2022 Social Security Disability
Can my spouse and children get benefits if I am approved for Social Security disability?
Dependents Benefit Amount
If you are approved for Social Security Disability on your own earnings record, your spouse and children also may be eligible to receive dependent benefits on your earnings records. Whether or not your dependents are eligible depends on their relationship to you. In some cases, the dependents' benefit amount begins when the relationship began.
You can also check your lifetime earnings record, which calculates your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) and your Family Maximum Benefit (FMB). Social Security disability benefits for dependents go a long way toward child care, spousal benefits, and other monthly benefits.
The Family Maximum Benefit
The Family Maximum Benefit is the amount payable to any family member, including the benefit paid to you (called your Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA). The FMB formula for family members of disabled individuals is different from the formula for families of retired or deceased workers. The FMB ranges significantly for individuals entitled to Social Security Disability benefits in 1980 or later. The benefits can equal the disabled worker's benefit (meaning that no benefits are payable to the worker's family), or go up to 150% disability payment of the disabled parent's benefit. Therefore, benefits for entitled dependents except survivor benefits for divorced spouses will equal 50% of the worker's PIA.
The PIA and FMB amount is derived from the disabled worker's lifetime earnings. If an individual's past earnings are quite low, the FMB will equal the PIA disability payment paid to the disabled worker, and no dependent benefits will be payable. To the degree that past earnings high enough for the FMB to be more than the PIA, dependent benefits are payable ranging in amount from a few dollars to up to an amount equal to 50% of the worker's PIA per dependent.
Examples of Family Maximum Benefits
Let's look at this in more detail. The higher the disabled worker's earnings history, converted to Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) to determine the PIA, the higher percentage of the PIA used to calculate the Family Maximum Benefit. If you have a low Social Security benefit, such as $300, your Family Maximum Benefit may be $300, all of which will be paid to you with none left to pay to your dependents. If your benefit is ~$500, your dependents will be eligible for a small benefit under the FMB because the FMB will be only slighter more than your own benefit. If you have a higher benefit, such as $1,800, then your FMB would be $2,700, 150% of your own benefit. Of that amount, $1,800 would be paid to you and $900 would be available to split among your eligible dependents.
Note that divorced spouses entitled on an earnings record are paid outside the FMB and their benefits do not reduce the benefits of those being paid within the family maximum. For more information about divorced spouses, see "When Your Former Spouse Is Eligible for Benefits" later in this article.
Your Family Maximum Benefit
You can find out your Family Maximum Benefit and PIA amounts by going to ssa.gov and setting up a My Social Security account. Once the account is set up, you can request an earnings statement (not a benefit statement). The earnings statement provides a history of your work earnings.
If you have worked enough to be insured for Social Security Disability benefits, the statement will include an estimate of your PIA (your benefit) and of your FMB. The difference between the two is the amount potentially payable to your dependents. (Note that your current year's and sometimes your prior year's earnings will not be listed, so even if the state says you are not insured for disability, you might be.) If you have difficulty obtaining the earnings statement and estimates, visit your closest Social Security office for assistance.
Who is a "child"?
Now that you know a little about benefit amounts that could be paid to your family, here's some information about how Social Security law defines eligible dependents and dependency when required.
First, your children may be eligible for child support. Social Security defines a "child" as your natural child, adopted child, dependent stepchild, and in some cases, dependent grandchild. Stepchildren can meet the stepchild status if they were born before the parent's marriage to the disabled worker or conceived before and born after. They can receive dependents benefits one year after the marriage that gave them stepchild status if they met the financial dependency requirement throughout the year before one of the dates when:
—The insured worker became disabled
—The insured worker became entitled to disability benefits
—An application was filed for the stepchild.
Dependency is receiving at least one-half support from the disabled stepparent. Rules regarding what is considered contributions for support are detailed and extensive, but as a general rule, the contribution has to provide for basic needs versus contributions for special activities and the like.
For a dependent, non-adopted grandchild to be eligible for dependent benefits, the grandchild's parents must either be deceased or disabled in the month that the grandparent becomes entitled to Social Security Disability (SSDI benefits) or Social Security Retirement benefits. (Or in the month when the grandparent's period of disability began). Also, dependency requirements similar to those for stepchildren must be met for the non-adopted grandchild to qualify.
When Children's Benefits Are Payable
But if the child is still a full-time student in high school or elementary school, benefits will continue to the end of the month before the child turns twenty. Benefits are not paid for eighteen or older children in post-secondary education or job training.
Children's benefits can continue or can start if a child becomes disabled before age twenty-two. Application for Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) payable for a disabled adult child can be filed three months before the child turns eighteen if the child is disabled and unmarried at that time and the parent is entitled to Social Security Disability or retirement age benefits or is deceased.
When Your Spouse Is Eligible for Benefits
Your potentially eligible dependents include your spouse age sixty-two or older or your spouse under age sixty-two who is caring for your child under age sixteen. For benefits to be payable, the spouse cannot have more countable work earnings than his or her maximum annual benefits.
Suppose your spouse is not earning above the limit. In that case, it may be to your spouse's advantage to apply for benefits even if benefits are being paid to children and total family benefits will not increase with your spouse's entitlement. The reason is that entitlement on your earnings record could protect your spouse's potential eligibility for disabled surviving spouse's benefits should you die before them.
When Your Former Spouse Is Eligible for Benefits
If you are divorced, your divorced spouse age sixty-two or older may also qualify for benefits if the divorced spouse:
—Was married to you for 10 or more years
—Is not currently married
—is not entitled to a higher benefit on their own earnings record.
Your divorced spouse's benefit will be paid outside the Family Maximum Benefit; that is, the divorced spouse's benefit will not affect the amount paid to you or your other dependents.
Different from all other dependent benefits, divorced spouse's benefits can also be paid without the living wage earner being entitled to Social Security Disability or Retirement benefits as long as:
The divorce occurred two years or more before the application for divorced spouse's benefits is filed; and
The wage earner is insured and at least age sixty-two years old throughout the year that the divorced spouse files for benefits.
This allows the divorced spouse to receive retirement age benefits even if the wage earner defers retirement to age seventy.
What Happens When Dependent Benefits End
Benefits paid to your dependents do not reduce your own benefit, so when the dependents are no longer eligible, for example, when the youngest child turns eighteen, your own disability insurance benefits will not change.