Social Security Child Caregiver Benefits

The Social Security Act at first did not provide benefits for spouses who were caregivers of a worker’s children. Amendments in 1939 added spouses, surviving spouses and children as eligible beneficiaries. As of December 2009, over 63,000 spouses and surviving spouses were receiving benefits because they care for a worker’s eligible child. Although gender is not an eligibility factor, most recipients of caregiver spouse’s benefits are female -- only 5,400 are male.

Young Spouse's Benefits

The legal spouse of a retired or disabled Social Security recipient can receive benefits if she is at least age 62 or at any age if she has the worker’s eligible child under age 16 in her care. Qualified divorced spouses of living workers may receive benefits at age 62 but are not eligible for caregiver benefits. The basic benefit amount is 50 percent of the worker’s full benefit amount. To qualify, the caregiver must have physical custody of the child and responsibility for the child's supervision, although decisions can be made jointly with the child’s other parent. Support furnished to a child by an absent parent does not constitute custody unless the parent is directing the child’s care such as instructions to a nanny.

Mothers and Fathers Benefits

If a parent dies, the surviving spouse may receive survivor benefits as a caregiver if he has the child of the deceased in her care. The child must be under age 16 and eligible for monthly survivor benefits. Divorced spouses may qualify for survivor benefits as caregivers. Remarriage of recipients of mothers' or fathers' benefits terminates eligibility. The definition for child-in-care is the same as for the spouse of a living worker. The basic benefit rate for mothers' or fathers' benefits is 75 percent of the full benefit that would have been payable to the deceased.

Caring for a Disabled Child

Benefits to caregivers terminate when the youngest eligible child reaches age 16. However, benefits may continue if the child age 16 or over is physically or mentally disabled. The caregiver must exercise the same kind of parental authority for the disabled child as for a child under age 16. The child must meet Social Security’s definition of disability for benefit purposes -- an impairment that will last at least 12 months or result in death, and that prevents the child from performing any type of substantial work.

Payment Amounts

Recipients of spouse's or surviving spouse's benefits may not receive the full 50 or 75 percent of the worker's benefit amount if the family maximum applies. The total benefit payable to eligible recipients based on the earnings of an individual are limited to between 150 and 180 percent of the worker's full benefit amount. For example, if the worker's full benefit amount is $1,000, the maximum payable to all eligible recipients based on his record is $1,552. Out of the total payable, the worker receives his benefit of $1,000, and the remainder -- $552 -- is the total remaining of the family maximum for dependents to collect. More than one dependent will not be able to collect the full 50 percent basic benefit because of the family maximum limitation. If the worker has a spouse and two children, they will each receive an equal share of the $552 in benefits available -- $184 each.