The impact marriage has on your disability benefits can vary drastically depending on the type of claim you file.
If you file an application for Social Security Disability Insurance – the system that you pay into with taxes and that determines eligibility based on work credits – marital status has no impact on your claim. You’ll receive the same amount of benefits whether you’re single, married, separated, or divorced. Similarly, changing your marital status will have no impact on your monthly benefits.
The need-based Supplemental Security Income program has much stricter rules about marriage, though. In some cases, what your spouse makes can completely disqualify you from being eligible for SSI.
The current maximum monthly SSI benefit in 2023 is $914. The Social Security Administration uses a process called deeming to determine how much of a spouse’s income will reduce that amount. Essentially, the more money your spouse makes, the less you get from SSI until it’s phased out completely.
Another issue that often comes up is that even though the monthly SSI maximum is $914, if a married couple is found disabled and eligible for SSI benefits, they can’t double that out. By law, the maximum amount a married couple on SSI can receive currently is $1,415 each month.
Further complicating matters is that SSI benefits can be impacted even if you’re not legally married, as SSA considers a couple that “holds themselves out to be married” as married for the purposes of SSI. That means that even if you and your spouse have never officially tied the not, if you tell everyone you consider yourselves married, and also mention that Social Security during the interview for SSI benefits, they can also use that as grounds to reduce or eliminate monthly SSI payments.
It’s a complicated and often unfair system, which is why it’s so important to talk to a disability attorney about SSI before talking to Social Security.