Stay-at-home parents face a serious problem obtaining social security benefits. To qualify for benefits, they had to have paid into the social security system. For disability benefits, the disabled person must have worked 20 of the last 40 quarters (5 of the last 10 years) before their disability began. (See Have I Worked Enough to Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?) By definition, the stay-at-home parent does not pay into the social security system while raising the children. As a result, they often do not have enough (or any) work credits to be insured for disability benefits.
This unfortunate fact has not been missed by the lawmakers. Although far from perfect, there are situations in which the stay-at-home parent is eligible for social security benefits. The law provides that, in certain circumstances, the stay-at-home parent can use their spouse’s earnings record as the basis for benefits. In this post I describe those circumstances.
This story is all too common. One spouse stays at home and raises the children only to see the marriage end once the children are grown. At this point the stay-at-home spouse probably does not have the necessary work credits to qualify for disability benefits. The law was written to afford some measure of protection to the stay-at-home spouse by allowing them to access the ex-husband’s (or ex-wife’s) work credits. Interestingly, the requirements vary depending upon whether the ex-spouse is living or deceased. If the ex-spouse is still living the requirements to access their work credits are:
- The marriage had to have lasted at least 10 years,
- The stay-at-home spouse has not remarried,
- The stay-at-home spouse is 62 or older, and
- The ex-spouse is entitled to retirement or social security disability benefits.
If the ex-spouse is deceased:
- The marriage had to have lasted at least 10 years, and
- The stay-at-home spouse is age 60, or
- The stay-at-home spouse is 50 and disabled.
(I make no comment on the wisdom of making it easier to obtain the benefits if your ex has deceased!)
Widows or Widowers
If their spouse dies, a stay-at-home spouse may be entitled to widows or widowers benefits. These benefits are based on the work credits of the deceased spouse – not of the stay-at-home spouse. Widows or widowers can access their deceased spouse’s earning records in a couple of ways. First, if the surviving spouse is over 60 and did not remarry they can claim widow’s benefits. Second, they can claim benefits if they are at least age 50, disabled, and have not remarried. Third, if the stay-at-home parent is still caring for the deceased spouse’s child who is either under age 16 or disabled.
So what about those who are still married to living and breathing spouses? For those under age 62, the law provides only a single method of accessing the spouse’s work record. If the spouse is receiving retirement or disability benefits from the SSA, the stay-at-home spouse can receive social security benefits based on the spouse’s work credits if they are caring for the spouse’s child who is either under 16 or disabled. For those stay-at-home spouses 62 and over, if the spouse (with a sufficient earnings record) is disabled or has retired, they can access their earnings records. In other words, there is no requirement to be a caregiver if the stay-at-home spouse is at least 62. (Thanks Joanne.)
By David Galinis