SSA logo: link to Social Security Online home306. Spouse Defined

306.1 What is the definition of spouse for Social Security purposes?

You are considered a spouse for Social Security purposes if you meet the conditions in either (A) or (B) below at the time you apply for benefits:

  1. Under applicable law:

    1. You and the worker were validly married1; or

    2. You would have the status of a husband or a wife with respect to the taking of intestate personal property;

  2. You entered into a ceremonial marriage with the worker that was invalid under applicable law because of an impediment resulting from a prior marriage or its dissolution; or a defect in the procedure followed in connection with the alleged marriage, provided:

    1. You married the worker in good faith, not knowing of any defect at the time of the marriage;

    2. You were living with the worker in the same household when he or she applied for benefits (unless you were divorced from the worker at the time); and

    3. For benefits payable prior to January 1991, there is no other person who is or was entitled to monthly insurance benefits on the worker's earnings record as his or her spouse and who still has status as the worker's spouse.

306.2 What is applicable law?

Applicable law is the law that would be applied by the courts of:

  1. The State where the insured worker was domiciled when you filed for benefits; or

  2. The law applied by the District of Columbia if the insured worker was not domiciled in any State when you filed for benefits.

See §306.1 A. footnote.


1Under Federal law an individual whose claim for benefits is based on a State recognized same-sex marriage or having the same status as spouse for State inheritance purposes cannot meet the statutory gender-based definition of husband or wife of the worker, including one who is divorced. Therefore, for all benefit purposes, the Social Security Administration does not recognize such individual as the spouse of the worker.

Last Revised: Sep. 1, 2009