Will Marriage, Divorce or Living Together Affect My Disability?

by Lori Polemenakos   ·  2 years ago  

Important: We updated this article in August 2022 to reflect current SSA policy and data. Recently, three different readers asked questions about current or former romantic relationships and how they affect disability benefits. Since these questions revolve around marriage, divorce and living together, we answer them all below.

Question #1: Will My Upcoming Marriage Affect My Disability?

One woman wrote us to ask whether her upcoming marriage could hurt her disability payments. She didn’t specify whether she got Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits each month. If you currently receive SSDI or apply for those benefits, then no, marriage makes no difference. That’s because the SSDI program only looks at your current income when you apply, not your spouse’s. So, your combined income after marriage won’t make your SSDI payment any lower each month. It also won’t make you ineligible to receive SSDI payments.

If you get SSI payments, on the other hand, then you should think long and hard about marriage. That’s because SSI counts both you and your spouse’s income towards the total limit of $1,350 per month. If you marry and your husband’s monthly salary pays more than that, you could lose your SSI benefits. But that’s not the only reason to worry. If your new husband’s paycheck and your SSI payments combined add up to more than $1,350/month, you’ll lose your benefits.

Question #2: Can I Apply for My Ex-Husband’s Benefits Instead of My Recently Deceased Spouse?

Another reader wrote in and said she currently received disability payments through her husband that passed away in 2016. However, her marriage to her first husband lasted 21 years. Could she draw those disability benefits instead? While you can draw your ex-husband’s benefits if your marriage lasted at least 10 years, unfortunately, that doesn’t apply here. You can only apply for spousal benefits after divorce if you never remarried. Since this reader now draws survivor’s disability from her second husband’s work record, she cannot draw the ex’s SSD benefits. If she stayed single, then yes, she could apply for her ex-husband’s benefits once she turns 62 years old. Parents with a child younger than 16 years old at home can qualify for spousal disability benefits at any age.

Question #3: The SSA Reduced My Benefits Because I’m Living With My Boyfriend. Can They Do That?

Another reader noticed her monthly SSI payment went down and called her local Social Security office to ask why. They said that because she and her boyfriend lived “as man and wife,” they had to cut her benefits. “But we’re not married, we just live together! Can they do that? Is this legal?” she asked us. Unfortunately, yes. The SSA can reduce your monthly SSI if you live with your partner. It doesn’t matter if you’re legally married, a same-sex couple or whether your state recognizes common-law marriage.

Here’s why: Unless your boyfriend has no income and you pay all bills, his paycheck counts against you. Even if you live rent-free in your brother’s house or have roommates, the SSI program calls that “in-kind support.” Anything that people give you for free counts towards your monthly SSI income limit. That includes things like your mom driving you to the doctor, free after-church lunches or shared water bills.

Related: How Much Do Disability Lawyers Charge?

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.