Q: How long must a couple be married before benefits as a wife or husband are possible?
A: This question is easier to ask than to answer because several exceptions exist to a general policy. When filing for Social Security benefits, or if already receiving SSA benefits when getting married, a couple should inquire about their specific situation.
The length of marriage requirement is different for life spousal benefits, such as to a wife or husband, compared to survivors benefits to a widow or widower. Basic spousal benefit requirements are the same whether Social Security retirement or disability benefits are involved. Additional requirements must be met before benefits are actually payable.
For life benefits, the general rule is that a couple must be married for at least one continuous year before Social Security spousal benefits are possible. However, in one exception this one-year marriage requirement is waived if the person filing application as a spouse had been entitled or potentially entitled to any of several SSA benefits in the month before the month of marriage. As one example, if a woman receiving SSA widow’s benefits marries a man receiving retirement, the duration of marriage requirement for her to receive spousal benefits on his record would not apply although other requirements must still be met.
Potentially, spousal benefits to your wife or husband could be based on that person’s age, for example being at least age 62, or at any age if he or she is caring for a child also eligible for SSA benefits on your record. Each type of benefit has its own specific rules.
For survivor benefits, the general rule is that the couple must have been married at least nine months just before the worker died. Exceptions exist. Always inquire about SSA benefits when there is a death in the family.
I regret being vague but, again, this question is easier to ask than to answer. When filing for Social Security benefits, or if already receiving SSA benefits when getting married, a couple should inquire about their specific situation.