Social Security benefits sometimes make up the bulk of a person's income, so it’s important to know whether getting married will affect the receipt of these benefits. Some types of Social Security Disability (SSD) are for unmarried family members of the disabled person (so marriage will render the person ineligible for benefits), while other types are for married or unmarried people, but have income limits. In that case, a new husband or wife’s income can be counted toward these limits and could make a disabled person financially ineligible for benefits. Let’s take a closer look at both of these situations.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
SSDI is the benefit paid to disabled workers who have paid taxes into the Social Security for multiple years. To receive SSDI, you have to fit the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) definition of disability, but you can be unmarried or married. Getting married won’t ever effect SSDI benefits that you collect based on your own disability and your own earnings record.
However, certain dependents of a disabled worker can receive SSDI auxiliary or survivor benefits based on the disabled worker’s earning record. Some of these dependents’ benefits are given only to family members who are unmarried.
Children who receive SSDI benefits on the record of a parent will lose these benefits if they get married. Here are the specifics:
The unmarried child or stepchild of a disabled worker can receive benefits until age 18, or age 19 if a full-time high-school student, or until getting married, whichever occurs earlier.
The unmarried disabled adult child of a disabled worker can receive benefits (assuming his or her disability occurred before age 22) until he or she recovers from the disability or gets married. In some circumstances, a disabled adult child may be able to marry another disabled adult child without either person losing benefits.
For more information on children's SSDI benefits, see our article on benefits for children of disabled parents.
Widows and Widowers Benefits
Widows and widowers lose their SSDI benefits if they get remarried. (A surviving spouse who is 60 years old or older, or at least 50 years old and disabled, can receive benefits until death unless he or she remarries.) For more information, see our article on SSDI benefits for the spouse of a disabled worker.
Divorced Spouse’s Benefit
An ex-spouse who is receiving benefits based on her ex-husband or wife’s record will lose these benefits if she or he gets married. (A divorced spouse who was married at least ten years to the disabled worker and who is 62 years old or older can receive benefits until death unless he or she remarries.)
Divorced Spouse’s Survivors Benefit
An ex-spouse who is receiving benefits based on her deceased ex-husband or wife’s record will lose these benefits if she or he gets married before a certain age. (The ex-spouse of a deceased disabled worker who is 60 years old or older, or at least 50 years old and disabled, can receive benefits until death unless he or she remarries.) If the surviving divorced spouse remarries after age 60 (or after age 50 if disabled), the SSA will ignore the marriage.
For more information on SSDI benefits for ex-spouses, see our article on getting disability as the divorced spouse of a disabled person.
Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI)
For SSI (disability benefits for low-income disabled people who did not pay enough into the Social Security system for SSDI), eligibility for benefits is never terminated simply by marriage. SSI benefits are available to unmarried and married disabled people alike. SSI eligibility is dependent on meeting the definition of disability and financial income and resource limits.
When a disabled person gets married (and lives with his or her new spouse), the problem is that the SSA will count some of the new husband or wife’s income as available to the disabled spouse. This is called “deeming income,” and the nondisabled spouse’s income that counts as available to the disabled spouse is called “deemed income.” If the nondisabled spouse makes a good or even fair income, the disabled spouse will likely lose his or her SSI benefits.
If the nondisabled spouse earns more than $337 per month in countable income (in 2011), the nondisabled spouse’s income will be deemed. The SSA has a very complicated formula for deeming spousal income. In a nutshell, if the spouses’ combined countable income (after certain sizeable deductions) is more than $1,066 per month (in 2013), the disabled spouse will be ineligible for SSI.
If both you and your fiancé (or fiancée) are receiving SSI benefits, the amount you receive will be reduced after marriage to match the couple's SSI monthly benefit amount – that is, assuming you and your spouse are still eligible for benefits. When both spouses are disabled, they must both meet the financial eligibility requirements for a couple. Their income is counted together, without using the deeming formula. If they make under the required amount, they would get the couples rate for SSI ($1,066 in 2013).
Call the SSA at (800) 772-1213 for help determining whether your fiancé or fianceé's deemed income is likely to make you ineligible for SSI.