Why Is My Spousal Benefit So Low?

Oct 8 2016 - 11:00am

My husband (75) and I (70) have been married for almost three years. My husband has an adult (43) disabled son who lives in a group home for one. All of his expenses are paid by the state...house payment, food, etc.. I applied to receive spousal benefits on my husband's social security and was told that because of ....69 F3d 614 Parisi ll Cooney v. S Chater....that it would only increase my SS by $46 a month. We do not begrudge his son receiving any monies from my husband's SS. We happily and whole heartedly support his receiving his share...but do not understand why this prohibits me from receiving more than $46. My husband paid $117,788 into SS and receives $1710.90 a month. We live on SS and a small pension my husband receives.
I went online and pulled up copies of 69 F3d 614 Parisi ll Cooney v. S Chater. A really detailed one on Open Jurist and another one on the official Social Security website. I don't understand either one. I would truly appreciate any help or insight you can give me on this matter. We are barely making ends meet and can use all the help we can get. Thank you so much for your time. I truly don't know who else to turn to.


It's very difficult to explain the significance of Parisi v. Chater to someone unless they have a very good understanding of Social Security family benefit calculations. Even then, it can be a difficult concept to grasp.

In truth, though, the Parisi v. Chater decision neither hurt nor helped you personally. Your spousal benefit is limited because there is a family maximum that can be paid on any individual's Social Security record, and in your case you must share what's payable on your husband's account with his disabled son (https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/handbook/handbook.07/handbook-0732.html). Assuming that his son isn't also eligible for benefits on his own record, the Parisi v. Chater decision does help your stepson, though. It allows the portion of your husband's family maximum that is not paid to you because you are also receiving benefits on your own record to be distributed to your stepson, as long as he is not entitled to benefits on more than one account. So, at least your entitlement to spousal benefits does not cause his son to get a lower benefit, which would have been the case prior to the Parisi v. Chater decision.

It may help you to read the examples in the following section of the Social Security program operations manual (POMS): https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0300615768. The court case referenced in this section of POMS is the Parisi v. Chater case. POMS is the source that Social Security employees use, and it is basically a translation of the Social Security Law & Regulations into something closer to plain English, although it uses internal acronyms that sometimes make it difficult for the general public to follow.

Best, Jerry