Social Security statements include the phrase, “Total family benefits cannot be more than…” This maximum amount only applies to benefits based on a single earnings record—it has no bearing on the maximum benefit a married couple receives when each spouse is using their own work record. This same maximum amount also does not apply to a single work record wherein one spouse’s benefits is based on the other spouse’s work record if there is no other family member (such as a child) collecting money on that same work record.
The family maximum does apply when there are minor children collecting benefits, whether the worker is alive or dead. The family maximum is usually 150-180% of the worker’s benefit; the spouse’s benefit is typically 50% of the worker’s benefit. Benefits paid to a divorced spouse or a divorced surviving spouse has nothing to do with the family maximum.