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Social Security can benefit ex-spouses

Q: I have been married and divorced several times. How many wives can receive on my Social Security record?

A: One wife at a time can potentially receive on your record but there is no limit to the number of your former (divorced) spouses potentially eligible at one time.

All of these people would have to meet benefit requirements including not being eligible for a higher amount on a different record. For a divorced spouse benefit, the marriage must have lasted at least ten years.

Other requirements are available at

SSA benefits paid to a divorced or surviving divorced spouse will not affect amounts payable to others on the record. In other words, paying a former spouse(s) would not affect your SSA benefit amount or that of a current spouse, if one were eligible on your record.

Q: Now my earnings are covered by Social Security but I worked under Railroad Retirement for several years too. Will that railroad work add to my future SSA benefits?

A: Social Security and Railroad Retirement are two separate programs, with the original Railroad Retirement legislation preceding Social Security. There is coordination between the two programs when a person has worked under both systems.

Broadly speaking, a retirement application will be adjudicated by the Social Security Administration if a person has less than 120 months of credited railroad service and by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) if there are 120 or more months of railroad service. This can vary based on railroad employment dates.

The RRB determines which agency handles survivor claims. The Railroad Retirement website is at

Q: What is the minimum Social Security retirement benefit amount?

A: There is no official minimum monthly Social Security retirement amount. Benefit amounts are based on your career earnings and age when starting benefits. For administrative reasons, Social Security will not pay a benefit of less than $1. 

Q: I receive SSA retirement and work a part-time job. I reported my estimated earnings to Social Security but I am working fewer hours than expected, and will earn less for the year. Can I change my estimate now?

A: Yes. Update your 2012 earnings estimate with Social Security if your original estimate is no longer accurate. This question refers to the annual earnings test. Your own earnings from gross wages or net self-employment can reduce the amount of SSA benefits payable to you during a year until you reach full retirement age (FRA).

Annual earnings test amounts involved vary with your age. Details are online at See also How Work Affects Your Benefits (SSA publication 05-10069) at 10069.html or from any SSA office.

Based in Grand Forks, Howard I. Kossover is the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Send general interest questions to him at Read his online articles at