A non-working spouse may qualify for Social Security benefits. The maximum benefit is 50 percent of what his partner receives. Receiving spousal benefits doesn't reduce or otherwise affect the working spouse's own benefits.
Qualifying for Benefits
A non-working spouse can't qualify for benefits until the working spouse is eligible for Social Security retirement or disability income. The non-working spouse must be at least 62, with one exception. He can collect benefits at a younger age if he's caring for the wage-earner's under-16 child, if the child is on Social Security disability. The disability benefits may continue after the child turns 16, but the Social Security Administration cuts off spousal benefits.
Retirement Age Effects
To receive the maximum 50 percent benefit, the non-working spouse has to wait to apply until full retirement age. This varies according to the year of birth: for anyone born after 1959, for instance, it's 67. If, instead, the non-working spouse files for benefits at 62, he may receive as little as 32.5 percent of his spouse's Social Security. The greater the time before full retirement, the greater the benefit reduction. Spouses can use the Social Security Administrator's online calculator to figure how much they'll lose by retiring too soon.
How to Apply
The non-working spouse can apply for benefits as soon as he's within three months of turning 62, or any time after that. An applicant needs to present his birth certificate, marriage certificate and -- if not born in the United States -- proof of citizenship or lawful alien status. The Social Security Administration says there's no need to wait if the documents aren't readily available. Instead, it will work with applicants to help find the paperwork. The non-working spouse can apply online, by phone or at a local Social Security office.
If the non-working spouse receives benefits and the wage-earner's child receives disability, the stay-at-home spouse benefit may be limited. The family, as a group can't receive more than 150 or 180 percent of the wage earner's benefits, even if the individual benefits add up to more. If the wage-earner's ex-spouse receives benefits based on the wage-earner's income, however, that's not a problem. A divorced spouse's Social Security doesn't affect the family's benefits in any way.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.