Will SSI Count Your Spouse's Income If You're Married but Separated?

Married but living apart? In most cases, Social Security won’t consider your husband’s or wife’s income when you’re separated but not divorced—with a few exceptions.

By , J.D. · University of Missouri School of Law
Updated 10/02/2023

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability is a need-based program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Unlike Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), you can't get SSI if your income or assets exceed specific limits. In 2024, the SSI income limit for one person is $943 per month, and for couples, it's $1,415 a month.

If you're married and living together, some of your spouse's income will count toward the income limits. And if you're divorced, Social Security won't usually count your ex-spouse's income when deciding your SSI eligibility or benefit amount. (Read about how divorce can affect your disability payments.)

But what if you're still married and separated from your husband or wife? Does it matter if you're living together or apart? Here's what you need to know about when you'll be considered married (and when you won't) for SSI income limit purposes.

Does Social Security Count You as Married If You're Just Living Together?

If you're living with someone but not married to that person (and were never married), Social Security might count your roommate's income as if you were married. This could lower your SSI benefit, or even make you ineligible for benefits. But if you're living with a sibling, a caregiver, or a platonic roommate, the SSA won't consider the other person's income.

So when does the SSA count a couple who lives together as married? It can get a bit complicated, but fortunately, the SSA has rules that address just these situations. Under the rules, if you live with another adult, you won't be treated as a married couple for SSI purposes as long as you aren't married and you:

  • you aren't in a civil union
  • you aren't in a domestic partnership, and
  • you don't "hold yourselves out" as a married couple (see below).

Does Social Security Count You as Married If You're Separated?

Living apart. If you're no longer living with your spouse and you've legally separated, you won't be considered married for SSI purposes, and the SSA won't count one spouse's income as belonging to the other spouse.

Living together. If you continue to live with your ex-spouse after your separation or divorce, you still won't be treated as a married couple for SSI purposes, as long as both of the following are true:

  • you don't "hold yourselves out" as a married couple (see below), and
  • you have evidence that you're divorced or legally separated.

If you're living with your ex-spouse but divorced, Social Security will likely require you to provide a copy of the divorce decree and a statement explaining why you and your ex continue to live together (for example, due to illness or financial difficulties). Or, if you're separated, it helps to have a separation agreement or other evidence that you and your spouse have split up finances. The SSA will look for evidence that you're acting like a divorced or legally separated couple.

Are You Holding Yourselves Out as Being Married?

When Social Security needs to determine if you and the person you're living with are "holding yourselves out as being married," the agency will usually require a signed statement from one or both of you describing the nature of your relationship.

If there's any evidence that either of you present yourselves to others as married, Social Security will probe further, asking questions such as:

  • How do you introduce the other person in social situations?
  • How is mail addressed to you and the other person?
  • Do you still use your married name (if applicable)?
  • Do you own your home jointly?
  • If you rent, are both your names on the lease?
  • Do your bills, bank accounts, and tax returns identify you as married?

The answers to these questions help Social Security decide if part of the income of the person you live with should be "deemed" to you. You may be asked to fill out the Marital Relationship Questionnaire (Form SSA-4178), which asks questions about your living arrangements, finances, and whether you're holding out as married.

Examples of Unmarried or Divorced Couples Who Apply for Benefits

Here are some examples of how Social Security decides whether couples are holding themselves out as married.

Living Together Doesn't Necessarily Mean You're Married for SSI Purposes

The bottom line is that, if you've never been married to the person you're living with—or you have a divorce decree—and you're not holding yourselves out as being married, the fact that you live together shouldn't affect your eligibility for SSI, as long as the evidence supports your claim.

Does Social Security Count Income From Your Ex-Spouse If You're Divorced?

When determining your eligibility and benefit amount for SSI, Social Security generally doesn't count your ex-spouse's income or resources—that is, if you're divorced and no longer living together. (The same is true once a couple is legally separated.) But any spousal support or alimony you receive will count toward the SSI individual income limit.

And keep in mind that if your ex-spouse (or anyone else) buys your food, pays your rent, or allows you to live for free at their home, Social Security will likely "deem" this as "in kind" support, which could reduce the amount of your SSI payment. (Learn more about how in-kind income can affect your SSI.)

How Are SSI Benefits Calculated for Couples Who Are Married or Living Together?

If Social Security considers you "married" for SSI purposes, your partner's income will affect your eligibility for SSI and your benefit amount. If your spouse works or has other income, Social Security will "deem" part of that income to be available to you.

In deeming part of your spouse's income to you, Social Security considers two factors:

  • how much your spouse gets in earned and unearned income, and
  • whether or not you have children.

Your spouse (or live-in partner) can have a small income without affecting your SSI eligibility. (For 2024, that's $472 per month, or $5,664 per year.) If you have children, add $472 per child to that monthly amount.

But not every other dollar of income your spouse or live-in partner has is deemed to you. The SSA won't count TANF payments, general assistance, or VA pension, for example (though other forms of unearned income, like unemployment and SSDI, do count). And you can deduct certain expenses from your spouse's monthly income.

What remains of your spouse's income will be deemed to be available to you and will lower your SSI amount. Learn more about how Social Security counts marital income.

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