I'm 56 years old. My ex-husband is 57. We were married for 16 years and he remarried years ago. When he files for Social Security, am I entitled to a benefit based on his record? If so, how do I file for it? What if he moves to another state?
You're eligible for Social Security based on a former spouse's earnings record if: 1) your marriage lasted at least 10 years; 2) you don't remarry before age 60; 3) you and your ex are both at least 62 years old; and 4) your benefit based on his record is bigger than the one you'd get based on your own record. (You can only receive the larger of the two.)
If you meet all four conditions, you'll qualify for a spousal benefit during your ex's lifetime and a survivor benefit after his death. It doesn't matter where he lives, whether he has remarried, or even whether he has not yet filed for Social Security, provided he's eligible to do so.
But remember, if you apply before your full retirement age -- 66 years and 10 months, if you were born in 1959 -- your benefit is permanently reduced. To receive the maximum amounts -- a 50 percent spousal benefit and a 100 percent survivor benefit -- you must delay your applications for these benefits until your full retirement age.
To apply, call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 for an appointment. Bring your marriage certificate and divorce decree, proof of age and U.S. citizenship or legal residence, and a photo ID when you go to the local office. You must provide your ex-husband's name and date of birth; it's helpful to have his Social Security number, but not essential. The agency can retrieve it.
THE BOTTOM LINE It's possible to collect Social Security based on a former spouse's earnings.
TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert /Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address and phone number. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own advisers for your specific needs.