Grandparents taking selfie photo with their grandchildren in city park.

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Ask Carolyn: Can I get social security benefits for my grandchildren?

Hello Carolyn,

I have a question regarding grandchildren who are in the custody of the grandparents.

Here is the scenario. My wife and I have legal custody of three grandchildren ages 13, 12, and 9.  We were granted legal custody by the court about 18 months ago.  Before that, we had been granted temporary custody of the children.  We have been given permanent custody because the parents cannot/will not take proper care of the children.  The father has a drug problem and has not completed court order drug rehab, nor has he presented us a drug test showing negative results.  There is a court order for child support, but he does not pay it.  He stays off the radar so Child Support Services can’t locate him.  The Mom is bipolar and refuses to take her medications and see her psychiatrist on a continuing basis.  The parents have minimum  contact with the kids

We provide the total needs for the kids.  Food, clothing, outside activities, etc.  We have claimed them on our income tax return as dependents.

My question.  Are there any Social Security benefits available for these children?  Note, they are not adopted.  We have full custody.  Any advice you have would be appreciated.

In Need of Support


Dear In Need of Support,

There are three situations that grandchildren can receive social security benefits based upon a grandparent’s earning history: 1) adoption; 2) natural parents are both deceased, or 3) natural parents are disabled.

Some additional information is needed to answer fully your question.  I don’t know your age. You did not say if both you and your wife are receiving social security at this time.  Also, you do not say if you have other income.  There are a lot of social security strategies, but your current status and income are necessary to evaluate these strategies.

One concept that may help you is “child in care spousal benefit.”  Child in care may apply to you if your spouse is under age 62 and is the caretaker of a child under 16.  Your facts indicate you have children under your control that are under age 16, so you meet this requirement.  You and your spouse have “parental control and responsibility” under social security law.  If you are the only one receiving your social security and the grandmother is under 62, the grandmother will be entitled to the “child in care spousal benefit.”

I also look at your facts suggesting that both of the natural parents are disabled.  One of this parents is your child.  If you can get your disabled child to apply for and receive Title 2 Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), your grandchildren would be entitled to benefits related to the physically challenged parent.  I think it would be worth going with your adult child to see one of the many social security lawyers in our county and apply for Disability Insurance Benefits.  I will make a confidential referral to a social security litigator if you want to call me at Woodruff Family Law Group.

I also recommend you to the “Ask Larry” column written by Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff, who welcomes exclusively social security questions.  He also has a free book download.


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This blog is an excerpt from a previously published Ask Carolyn column in the Rhino Times.

Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427.  Please do not put identifying information in your questions. 

Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your unique case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn.”