Whether marriage affects your disability benefits depends on whether you're collecting Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits or SSI 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. If you receive benefits based on someone else's work record, you may lose your benefits by getting married, depending on your relationship to the person on whose record you collect Social Security benefits.
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.
Deceased spouse's work record. If you are receiving benefits as the widow of a Social Security disability recipient, you will lose your benefit by getting married if you get married before age 60 (or age 50 if you are disabled).
Ex-spouse's work record. If you are receiving Social Security benefits under your ex-spouse's work record, getting married will cause you to lose eligibility for benefits.
Deceased ex-spouse's work record. If you are receiving surviving divorced spouse benefits, you'll lose these benefits if you get remarried before age 60. If you are a divorced spouse receiving benefits due to a disability on your deceased ex-spouse's work record, you'll lose these benefits if you get remarried before age 50.
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.
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 $794 (in 2021), while the rate for a couple who are both receiving SSI is $1,191 (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.
Social Security calls those who receive SSDI and SSI "dual eligibles." If you receive benefits from both programs, getting married, as discussed above, could cause you to lose SSI benefits, but your SSDI benefits would not likely be affected. What might change is your dual eligibility status for Medicare and Medicaid. There is a complicated system between Medicare and Medicaid called "Medicaid crossover," which dictates which program pays for what.
People with dual eligibility usually qualify for help paying Medicare premiums and deductibles through Medicare's Savings Programs, which are administered by state Medicaid agencies. This is sometimes called getting "Medi-Medi" (short for Medicare and Medicaid). If your income increases, you may no longer qualify as a Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB), which means you might be subject to more out-of-pocket costs, but you might still qualify under the Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) or Qualifying Individual (QI) program or to receive "Extra Help" paying for Medicare Part D. Contact Social Security or your state's department of health care services about how the change would affect dual eligibility for you and your new spouse.
If talking to Social Security about any of these issues doesn't clear up your concerns, and you still don't know how marriage will affect your Social Security benefits, you may want to contact a qualified Social Security disability attorney.
Updated February 16, 2021