Social Security is a contract between the U.S. government and its working citizens to provide for retirement benefits upon reaching a set retirement age. As of 2010, recipients born before 1937 are eligible for the full benefit at age 65. For those born between 1938 and 1960, the retirement age gradually increases based on the year of birth until it reaches a maximum of 67 years old for those born in or after 1960. Social Security also manages disability benefits for citizens who are unable to work, and like the retirement benefits, there are benefits available to spouses.
Benefits for Married Spouses
Spousal benefits, like retirement awards, are based on the working spouse's employment record. If you become disabled, you are eligible for 50 percent of the benefit calculated on your spouse's work history if you are 62 years of age or older. You may receive the benefit at any age if you are disabled and caring for a child who is 16 years old or younger. If you have your own work history, it may be more beneficial to apply against your own work credits. You should speak to an adviser at the SSA to be sure you get the maximum benefit allowed.
If you become disabled, you should apply for benefits right away. The Social Security Administration, or SSA, acknowledges that the application process is long and difficult, and it could take up to six months to see an approval. Applicants must be disabled for six continuous months before they start receiving benefits, so the SSA encourages you to apply as soon as you become disabled.
Benefits for Former Spouses
In certain circumstances, a divorced spouse may apply for disability benefits based on her ex-husband’s work history. She must be unmarried, aged 50 or older and not eligible for a higher benefit amount based on her own work history or that of a different previous spouse. The marriage must have lasted for at least ten years. The benefit amount is equal to 50 percent of the total calculated on the spouse's work history.
When you collect benefits, be they for disability or retirement, as a divorced spouse, it will not affect the spousal benefits paid to your ex-husband’s current spouse.
Benefits for Widows and Widowers
Widows and widowers are entitled to disability benefits based on the spouse’s work history if they become disabled within seven years of the spouse’s death. The applicant must be at least 50 years old at the time the disability begins and unmarried.