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AARP's Social Security Q&A Tool

Does my spouse have to file for Social Security benefits in order for me to receive a spouse benefit?

En español | Yes. Your spouse must begin receiving benefits in order for you to receive spousal benefits. However, if your spouse has reached full retirement age, he or she can opt for an approach known as "file and suspend."  This allows you to collect benefits while your spouse continues to delay taking them, increasing his or her eventual monthly retirement benefit.   

Your spouse has to be full retirement age or older and must file and suspend before April 30, 2016 to use this strategy.  The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 changed the law, and a spouse will not be able to collect benefits on the record of a worker who submits a request for suspension after April 29, 2015.  

Note that different rules apply for divorced spouses, as long as they have been divorced for at least two years and both parties are over the age of 62. A divorced wife does not have to wait for her former husband to receive retirement benefits in order for her to receive ex-spouse benefits; however the same changes in the law apply to divorced spouses – anyone who hasn’t turned 62 before January 2, 2016 will not be permitted to collect just spousal benefits in the future. If they are entitled to both a spousal benefit and their own benefit, they will be deemed to file for both benefits at the same time and receive the higher of the two.

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