My husband applied for Social Security this year. His ex-wife is also applying. Her application asked if she'd been married before, and if so to provide her former husband's Social Security number. I wondered why they asked for this, as she has been remarried for over 10 years. My husband gave her his Social Security number. Will this affect my Social Security application for a spousal benefit, or for my own benefit?


Not to worry. It won't have any impact on your application or on the benefits you receive.

The Social Security Administration asks about former marriages in order to determine the biggest benefit the applicant can receive.

Your husband's ex can claim a benefit based on his work record if her situation meets all of these conditions: 1) They're both eligible to claim Social Security -- i.e., both are at least 62 years old or are collecting Social Security disability benefits. 2) Their marriage lasted at least 10 years. 3) She didn't remarry before she turned 60. 4) Her benefit based on his work record is bigger than her benefit based on her own work record.

If all these boxes are checked, she can claim a spousal benefit based on your husband's record during his lifetime, and a widow's benefit based on his record after his death. (She can't simultaneously receive benefits based on her current husband's record, however. If she's entitled to a benefit from both their earnings records, she gets the larger of the two.)

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But none of this will affect your Social Security entitlements based on your husband's record. They'll be the same as if he had never been married before.

THE BOTTOM LINE Under some circumstances, a worker's spouse and former spouse can both collect Social Security benefits based on his or her earnings record.


TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email 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.