Marriage and SSDI: How a Spouse Can Impact Social Security Benefits

Published on December 20th, 2017

If you’re married and become disabled, to the point where you are unable to work, it can make supporting yourself and your spouse extremely challenging. The process for receiving assistance from the Social Security Administration (SSA) can take years to complete, and once the process is complete the thought of losing the benefit or even a portion of it is frightening. One of the questions that frequently comes up is if marriage affects Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Marriage & SSDI

What is SSDI

SSDI benefits stem from a federal insurance program, paid into by the recipients and other taxpayers. The recipients are those people that have developed or been born with a condition that prevents them from being able to work or stay employed. There is a similar program within the SSA for disability assistance, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are paid to those that also can’t work due to disability but the payments are based on income for the recipient, not whether they worked and paid into Social Security to receive credit. SSI is only provided to low-income earners, regardless of their work history.

Qualifying for SSDI

To be eligible for SSDI benefits a person must expect to be affected by the disabling condition for at least 12 months, or if the condition is expected to cause death. The condition must prevent the recipient from having what the SSA calls “substantial gainful activity” that provides the individual with a relatively reasonable income. For SSDI the applicant must be younger than 65, and the have the equivalent of 5 full years of work completed during the past ten years if they are younger than 42. For each year over the age of 42 then the applicant must have worked an additional quarter year over the 5 year requirement. The way the SSA looks at the time requirement is that each three months worked count as one credit, and to qualify for SSDI the applicant must have 20 credits, plus one credit for every year of age over 42.

Getting Married While on SSDI Benefits

If an applicant is married before applying for SSDI then that information needs to be included with the application. Since SSDI is granted based on work history and earnings, being married prior to applying does not affect the qualifications or the benefit amounts. If a claimant gets married after having already started receiving benefits then it can change the qualifications as the new spouse could alter the way in which the disability affects the living conditions of the recipient. If the new marriage helps the recipient better manage the effects of the condition, then there is a chance that gainful employment may be possible again. The living conditions of the recipient can be altered enough by marriage to be substantially different enough from what they were at the time of application to warrant a review and change to the SSDI status. If the disability still prevents the recipient from holding onto employment after marriage then it’s likely that no change will be made to the benefit.

If the recipient is receiving the benefit based on their status as a dependent adult child of a worker then marriage will disqualify the recipient from continuing to receive those benefits based on their parent’s work credit. Likewise, if the benefit is based on an ex-spouse, or deceased spouse’s, work credit then remarrying will make the claimant ineligible to continue to receive that benefit.

The biggest takeaway from the process is that if the work credits are those of the disabled individual then marriage will likely not affect the benefit. SSDI benefits can be confusing and difficult to answer all the questions, if more information is needed, seeking out legal advice from an experienced attorney can help provide more details and assistance.


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