Who is Eligible to Claim Spousal Benefits? The basic answer to this question is obvious. The spouse gets to claim spousal benefits. That is all most couples ever need to know. America is a mixing pot, though, with an infinite amount of family situations, and some are more complicated.
There is only one spouse
In almost any conceivable scenario, the law is going to only recognize one spouse. For the most part, that legal recognition has nothing to do with love. Marriage requirements vary from state to state, but there are three basic elements. Two people have
- To be legally eligible to marry each other
- To consent
- To memorialize the marriage
Most couples meet these requirements at their wedding and then they are spouses eligible for each other’s spousal benefits.
The spouse will typically be eligible to claim spousal benefits until there is a finalized divorce. This can have bad consequences sometimes. For example, a husband and wife may split up but take months or years to finalize their divorce.
In that time, the wife could move on and move in with a new man (or woman) that she loves. If she were to die, her estranged husband would likely get her spousal benefits instead of her new life partner.
Naming the one spouse can get complicated in some cases. For example, a person is not legally eligible to get married if they are already married.
Marrying two people is called bigamy, and it is illegal in every state. The bigamous marriage is usually deemed void. There have been famous examples of men that are married and then marry another wife while keeping the first family a secret.
In these cases, the second wife will typically have her marriage deemed void and often not be eligible for spousal benefits because her marriage is bigamous. That can get complicated and a court could make an exception, but the first wife will have a much better claim.
Other bigamy cases can be less dramatic. For example, a woman might leave her husband and fail to completely finish the divorce paperwork.
Years later she could remarry, and that second marriage is typically going to be bigamous and considered void. Her first husband may be able to claim her spousal benefits, even if she has not seen him in years.
Again, courts sometimes make exceptions in extreme circumstances but the first spouse will usually have the stronger claim.
Child benefits are separate
It is important to recognize that children and spouses are very different under the law. It is relatively easy to sever all legal bonds with your spouse.
For the most part, it simply requires asking a court for divorce, splitting up your money and child care responsibilities and then getting a final divorce decree granted by a judge.
A parent will have a very hard time escaping responsibilities to his or her children, though.
A child will usually be eligible to get benefits from his or her parents until the parent passes his or her parental rights on to someone else. For example, a father can give up his parental rights and allow his ex-wife’s new husband to adopt the ex-couple’s child.
This will typically sever the child’s rights, but that is a lot more work than the divorce that can sever a spouse’s rights.