Whether getting married will stop or lower your disability benefits depends on the type of Social Security benefits you're getting. Different types of disability benefits are designed to help people in different circumstances, such as:
Each benefit type has a different basis, so how getting married will affect your disability benefits depends mainly on the type of benefits you're receiving. Let's look at each situation.
Marriage itself doesn't affect your eligibility for SSI benefits. But if your new spouse has income, and you live with your spouse, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will attribute some of that income to you (this is called "deeming spousal income").
Because of SSI's strict income limits, the more income your spouse has, the greater the effect on your benefits. If you get married, one of the following likely will happen:
And if you are marrying someone who also gets SSI benefits, your SSI benefit will become a joint payment, and the amount will go down.
If you and your future spouse are both receiving SSI before you get married, you'll likely receive less money after you wed. That's because of what some call the "marriage penalty."
When you marry, your SSI benefits (and income limit) will convert from the single rate to the couple's rate, which is lower than double the single's rate. (It's only one and a half times to single's rate.) So your SSI benefits will go down if you get married.
Let's say you and your future spouse are both receiving SSI benefits as your only income. If you each get the maximum benefit of $914 per month, that's a combined total of $1,828. But once you marry, Social Security will reduce your combined monthly benefit amount to $1,371 (about $686 per person).
In addition, a couple can only have $3,000 in countable resources (not counting a car, home, and household goods), while a single person can have $2,000. This resource limit applies even if only one member of the couple is receiving SSI. The SSA has these lower income and asset limits because it believes that a couple can live more cheaply than two single people living alone.
While getting married has plenty of advantages, are there benefits to not getting married? If you and your partner are both collecting SSI, can you avoid the marriage penalty by not getting married? Not necessarily.
Even if you live with someone without marrying them, the SSA might pay you the SSI couple's rate and count their income as if you were married. The SSA will do this if you are "holding yourself out as a married couple" or are in what you believe to be a common-law marriage.
Even if you don't consider yourself to be a permanent couple (and Social Security agrees), if you're receiving free room or board from a housemate ("in-kind" income), the SSA can reduce your payment by one-third.
You must report your marriage (or new living arrangements) to the SSA within 10 days after the end of the month in which you got married or moved. To report your marriage, you can call the SSA at 800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or contact your local Social Security office.
Since getting married on SSI hurts financially, some people wonder if they can just not tell Social Security about their marriage or changed living arrangements. There are dangers to doing this. If and when Social Security finds out, the agency will charge you with an overpayment, meaning it paid you more than it should have, and you'll have to pay the money back. The SSA collects overpayments by withholding part of your future SSI payments.
If you receive SSI and you begin living with your new partner, it could affect your SSI payments. Social Security could lower your monthly benefit amount by one-third if your new partner pays for your food or housing costs (Social Security calls this "in-kind" income). The SSA might also deem part of your partner's income as if you were married.
But your disability benefits won't be affected by joining a domestic partnership or civil union if you're receiving any of the following Social Security benefits:
If you worked long enough to be insured for Social Security disability insurance benefits under your own work record, getting married won't affect your benefit payments. SSDI doesn't have income or asset limits. And there is no marriage penalty for SSDI benefits; after marriage, each spouse continues to receive their own benefit. (Read more about the effect of getting married when you receive both SSDI and SSI benefits.)
But if you're collecting SSDI benefits based on someone else's work record (like a spouse or parent), marrying can affect your eligibility and will usually affect your benefit amount.
If you're disabled and receiving disability benefits as an adult child (based on your parent's work record), getting married will usually cause your SSDI benefits to stop. But if you marry someone who's also receiving Social Security disability benefits, you might not lose your benefits when you get married.
Children can get SSDI dependents benefits when a parent is disabled and receiving SSDI (based on the parent's work record) until one of these things happens:
the child turns 18 (19 if still in high school), or
So, if you're under 18 and you get married, your dependents benefits based on a parent's SSDI will end.
Widows and widowers can get survivors benefits when a spouse eligible for SSDI benefits dies. How remarrying will affect your survivors benefits depends on two things:
If you're over 60, remarrying won't affect your Social Security survivors benefits. The same is true if you're over 50 and disabled—your benefits won't stop if you get married again. (This is true even if you receive survivors benefits on your ex-spouse's work record.)
If you're still not sure whether your marriage could affect your benefits, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 (TTY: 800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office to talk to a field representative.
Updated May 30, 2023