America’s Social Security system pays benefits to those who cannot work because of a permanent injury or enduring illness. According to the SSA’s rules, a beneficiary’s spouse can also be paid under certain circumstances. Social Security is federally governed, but state laws are a factor in cases of common-law marriage.
Under Social Security’s rules, a beneficiary’s legal spouse can receive benefits from age 62. If a spouse waits until full retirement (age 65 to 67, depending on birth year), their payment is one-half the other spouse’s benefits. Before retirement age, the benefit is reduced, and is significantly smaller if payments are taken earlier.
Social Security only gives benefits to those who are legally married, but a divorced spouse can qualify in some cases. If people are not legally married but have a legally recognized common-law marriage, they may qualify; the SSA uses state laws to determine eligibility. If your state recognizes common-law marriages, so does the SSA.
Contrary to common belief, most states do not require couples to live together for a certain amount of time before a common-law marriage is established. Only New Hampshire has a time requirement (three years), and the state only recognizes a common-law marriage after one partner’s death, for probate and inheritance purposes.
Obtaining Common-Law Status
Common-law marriages are not recognized in all states, and those that do have strict requirements for proving the validity of the marriage. For instance, couples must live together, representing themselves as married, share a last name and bank jointly. As of 2013, 10 states and DC allow common-law marriages.
Common-Law Marriages from Other States
The SSA makes an eligibility decision when a spouse applies for SS benefits, using the laws of the applicant’s home state. However, the SSA recognizes a marriage as common-law if a couple moves from a recognizing state to one that does not recognize the marriage. As long as the state allows out-of-state common-law couples the same legal protections as married couples, spousal benefits are available. Your Social Security Lawyer in Memphis, TN can tell you whether you can receive benefits based on your common-law spouse’s work history.