Can I Get Spousal Social Security Benefits for Taking Care of My Adult Disabled Child?

 In Social Security, Special Needs Planning


My 31-year-old disabled son lives with my husband and me in Florida. He (son) receives SSI. If Dad retires at 62, when I will be 56, will I be eligible for a spousal benefit for taking care of my son even though I’m not 62? The Social Security Administration said no, but I see otherwise.  This is frustrating and stressful to find answers.


Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash


Ordinarily, someone with a spouse receiving Social Security retirement benefits would have to wait till age 62 to begin collecting a Social Security spousal benefit.  But you are correct that even if you are under 62, you might be able to collect if you and your husband have a disabled adult child living with you who receives Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) based on a parent’s Social security. This is known as the Child Disability Benefit (CDB).  The question is whether you meet the specific requirements for benefits in this situation.

According to Social Security regulations, to collect spousal benefits before you are 62 based on the presence in the home of an adult child, the child must be receiving a CDB and must be considered to be “in your care” which is defined as needing your help in providing certain “personal services” which are detailed in the regulations. In addition, a spouse receiving benefits is limited by the same Retirement Earnings Test applicable to the retirees under age 66 so that the benefit payable may be reduced or even eliminated depending on the amount of the your earned income, if any.

You say in your question that your son receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The disability rules are a bit different for CDB that they are for SSI. To receive CDB, the claimant not only meet the SSI requirement that they are disabled at the time they apply, but also that they have been continuously disabled since age 22, and be unmarried.

If, in fact, your son meets these criteria, he should be awarded CDB when your husband files for his early retirement benefit. One of the questions on the retirement application will be whether the applicant has any adult disabled children.  Sometimes applicants fail to indicate that they have a disabled adult child, or even if they do, the SSA staff fail to develop that “lead” and assist the child in filing for benefits.

But even if your son becomes entitled to CDB and you provide him with the required “personal services” mentioned above, which will make you eligible for a spousal benefit, don’t get too excited yet. The value of your spousal benefit may be limited by Social Security’s family maximum. This maximum varies based on the retiree’s past earnings, but is often only 150% of the benefits being paid to the primary benefit recipient—your husband in this case. In other words, your benefit as your son’s caretaker would, at most, be half of your husband’s benefit.

Since the child receives a benefit equal to 50% of the retiree’s benefit, depending on the retiree’s past earnings, the combination of retiree and child’s benefit being paid may already be at or close to the applicable family maximum.  In this case, if a spouse begins to collect a spousal benefit, it will just reduce the benefits being paid to the disabled child, not increasing the total Social Security benefits paid to the family.

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Little-Known Social Security Benefit for Parents of Disabled Children

Social Security Disability Income answers

Mark Bronstein

This response is provided by Mark Bronstein, Esq., who has been representing individuals in disability related matters since 1980. In addition to Social Security disability and retirement claims, he handles claims under private and group disability insurance plans, and also consults with individuals who have chronic or progressive illnesses and are “still working but worried.” In addition to representing individuals, he regularly consults with other attorneys on complex cases, and provides training and support to legal, chronic illness, and provider organizations. He is based in Newton, Massachusetts and can be reached at or 617-244-5551.

Showing 4 comments
  • Starli Brighton

    How wonderful that you talk about when benefits can be received by family members with a disabled child that they care for. My son was in a really bad car accident last year and was brain-damaged, and he wants to have more independence. I will help him find a great mentally disabled adult home for this nearby.

    • Harry Margolis

      I’m sorry to hear about your son and wish you success in finding him a new home that meets his needs.

  • sandra lembke

    Hi my question is similar to one above. My spouse passed away 11-30-2022. We have a disabled adult child, who was determined to be disabled before the age of 22 and was receiving ssi benefits. When her dad passed, she started collecting disabled adult benefits on her dad’s record. I am 56 years of age and care for our disabled adult child, am I entitled to collect survivor/widows benefits on my late husband’s record? Due to caring for our disabled adult child? There is not a lot of information out there, and what there is is very vague. Thank you

    • Harry Margolis

      Since this is somewhat outside my area of expertise, I checked with Attorney Mark Bronstein of Newton, Massachusetts. Here’s his response: “Yes, as the surviving spouse of an insured wage-earner with a disabled child in care, she is entitled to a benefit of 75% of the wage-earner’s benefit. But it will smaller than that because of the family maximum since the child is already receiving on the deceased dad’s earnings record.”
      I hope this helps.

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