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Dear Dr. Don,
My husband and I recently got married. He received Social Security benefits prior to being jailed. We could pay half of all our bills with this income. Unfortunately, while he is still in jail we don’t get benefits. I cannot afford all the bills by myself. Can I apply for spousal benefits based on his work record while he’s in jail?

Thank you,
— Married Monica

Dear Monica,
Congratulations on your wedding, I guess.

Here’s the bad news: Your husband won’t receive Social Security benefits for any month while he is in jail. Check out the Social Security Administration pamphlet titled “What Prisoners Need to Know.” It says, “No benefits are payable for any month in which you reside in a jail, prison or certain other public institutions.”

The Social Security Administration also notes there is a “duration-of-marriage” requirement. In situations where a convict isn’t involved, the spouse must be married for at least one continuous year before the application is filed by the partner seeking such pay.

There are a couple of exceptions to the one-year marriage requirement. For example, the requirement can be waived if the spouse is the natural mother or father of the worker ‘s biological child or if the spouse was entitled or potentially entitled to certain auxiliary or survivors benefits in the month before the month of marriage to the worker.

Another exception is when you are caring for a child of the worker under age 16. Then, you could qualify regardless of age. When the youngest child of the worker turns 16, the spouse ‘s benefit will end, even though the child’s benefit will continue. If the child is disabled, however, the spousal benefit will continue as long as the child is under your care.

Retirement benefits can be reinstated starting with the month following the month he is released. Supplemental Security Income benefits, also known as SSI, can be reinstated in the month he is released. If his confinement lasted for at least 12 consecutive months, then his eligibility for SSI benefits ended and he would need to file a new application for benefits.

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