Dear Rusty: Reading your current letter regarding Social Security benefits for ex-spouses, I pose this question: Would an individual who has had multiple marriages be entitled to distributions of Social Security for each of his or her marriages?
Signed: Thrice Divorced
Dear Thrice Divorced: No, I'm afraid that you are entitled to benefits from only one of your marriages, so obviously you would want to pick the one which gives you the greatest benefit. That would normally be from the ex-spouse who was entitled to the highest benefit based upon his or her own lifetime work record. You would have to be at least 62, have been married to that ex-spouse for at least 10 years and not be currently married to receive benefits on your ex-spouse's work record. Also, any benefit you are entitled to as an ex-spouse would need to be more than you are entitled to on your own work record; otherwise you will only receive what you are entitled on your own work record. You can apply for benefits on an ex-spouse's record even if your ex-spouse is not yet collecting Social Security, if you have been divorced for at least two years and if they are at least eligible to collect (at least age 62 or receiving SSDI).
If you were born before January 2, 1954 and have not yet filed, you can wait until your own full retirement age to apply for spousal benefits only based on your ex-spouse's record (Restricted Application), allowing your benefit based on your own work record to grow in order to receive a higher benefit later. If you wait until your full retirement age to apply, you'll be entitled to 1/2 of your ex-spouse's full benefit (or disability benefit), but if you apply earlier your benefit amount will be reduced. And if your ex-spouse has died, you would still be entitled to widow(er)'s benefits. Note that you collecting benefits on an ex-spouse's record does not affect your ex-spouse's benefit, nor will it affect the benefit of anyone else (e.g., a current spouse) also getting benefits from your ex-spouse's record.