Whether marriage affects your disability benefits depends on whether you're collecting Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits or SSI benefits.
How Marriage Affects SSDI Benefits
SSDI benefits are earned by paying into the Social Security system via payroll deductions. In order to be eligible for SSDI benefits, you must have accrued enough “work credits” to be covered.
Your own work record. If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits under your own work record (meaning you are the disabled worker,) then getting married will not affect your benefit payments. This is the case no matter whether your future spouse works, receives disability benefits, or has no income.
In some cases, the spouse, ex-spouse, widow, or adult child of a Social Security disability recipient qualifies to receive a benefit payment under the disabled worker’s record. These Social Security beneficiaries can sometimes lose their benefits by getting married, depending on your relationship to the person on whose record you collect Social Security benefits.
Parent's work record. If you are an adult disabled child receiving benefits under your parent's work record, getting married will cause your SSDI benefits to stop. In some circumstances, however, a disabled adult child may be able to marry another disabled adult child without either person losing benefits.
Ex-spouse's work record. If you are receiving Social Security benefits under your ex-spouse’s work record, getting married will cause your benefit payments to stop.
Deceased ex-spouse's work record. If you are a divorced spouse receiving benefits on your deceased ex-spouse's work record, you'll lose these benefits if you get remarried before age 60 (or before age 50 if you are disabled).
How Marriage Affects SSI Benefits
Past earnings do not factor into SSI eligibility, but there are strict income limits and resource limits that an SSI recipient can have. When you get married, a portion of your spouse’s income and assets is “deemed” (in other words, counted as) yours. This includes earnings from working, SSDI payments, and other types of income.
If the person you're marrying makes a good amount of income, it’s quite possible that when your future spouse’s deemed income is added to yours, this will put you over the SSI eligibility limit – keeping in mind that the program is designed to support the disabled individuals who have the most critical need. So getting married could reduce the amount of your SSI benefit or cause the payments to stop altogether. For more information, see our article on the deeming of spousal income, which includes some helpful examples.
If the person you are marrying is also receiving SSI, it’s likely that one or both of you will see your benefit amount reduced. This is because the full SSI payment for an individual is $710 (in 2013), while the rate for a couple who are both receiving SSI is $1,066 (which is less than double the individual payment.)
If you'd like help with calculating your potential loss of benefits, contact a representative at your local Social Security field office. If that doesn't clear up your concerns, and you still don't know how marriage will affect your Social Security benefits, it’s best to contact a qualified Social Security disability attorney.