xxaOldmancane2_vectorstock_1439531Many Illinois residents have heard they must have proven disabling conditions and sufficient earnings records to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. Most people do not realize there is another way to receive SSD benefits: drawing benefits based on the earnings record of a spouse. The Social Security Administration even permits individuals to claim benefits based on an ex-spouse’s earnings record, if certain requirements are met.


First, the ex-spouse must be considered disabled and have an adequate earnings record to receive benefits. In most cases, the SSA requires an individual to have 40 work credits, 20 of which were earned within the last decade. In 2014, each $1,200 of earned income counts as one credit. If an individual’s ex-spouse meets these SSD eligibility criteria, the individual may be allowed to collect half of the ex-spouse’s benefit amount.

The individual’s health and personal work history will not be factored into the SSA’s decision. However, the SSA establishes other criteria for the marriage and the person claiming disability benefits:

  • The marriage must have lasted a minimum of 10 years.
  • The person must be age 62 or older.
  • The individual cannot have access to a greater benefit amount based on a personal earnings record or an earlier marriage.
  • The person cannot be married.

If an individual remarries, he or she loses the right to collect benefits based on an ex-spouse’s earnings record. However, if the new marriage is later nullified or dissolved, the individual may resume collecting benefits.

Similarly, if a person remarries and the new spouse passes away, the person may resume collecting benefits off his or her ex-spouse’s earnings record. However, this is only permissible if the individual does not qualify to collect a higher benefit amount based on the earnings record of the deceased spouse.

Survivor benefits

 Even if an ex-spouse has passed away, a person may still qualify for benefits based on that spouse’s earnings record. The SSA makes an exception to the marriage length requirement if the surviving spouse currently cares for a minor child of the deceased ex-spouse.

The SSA also allows surviving spouses to remarry after age 60 without losing their survivor benefits. Surviving spouses who suffer from their own disabilities can remarry after age 50 and still collect survivor benefits.

The ex-spouses of Social Security Disability benefit recipients frequently do not understand what kind of benefits they are entitled to. It is usually advantageous for people in this position to work with a Social Security Disability attorney to fully understand benefit eligibility.