How Can The Same-Sex Marriage Decision Affect Your Disability Benefits?

Posted on: 5 October 2015

If you're in a committed same-sex relationship, you may have been ecstatic at the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, holding that state-level bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. However, if you receive federal disability benefits, it's possible that marrying your partner could affect the amount you're eligible to receive, or even your ability to move into your spouse's home or co-mingle property. Read on to learn more about how this decision (and your decision to marry) could affect your receipt of certain federal disability benefits. 

How can marriage affect your disability benefits?

Whether the act of marrying will disqualify you from disability benefits depends upon the specific type of benefits you're receiving. If you've worked a sufficient number of quarters during your working life to qualify for Social Security retirement, you're generally eligible to receive Social Security Disability (SSD) if you suffer an illness or injury that prevents you from holding down gainful employment. The amount of SSD you'll receive depends on your earnings history -- the longer you've worked during your lifetime and the more Social Security taxes you've paid, the higher your SSD income will be.

If you haven't worked enough quarters to qualify for Social Security retirement, but are unable to work full-time due to a disability and cannot earn enough money to support yourself, you'll qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This disability benefit is need-based, and generally the amount you can receive will be lower than the amount a similarly-situated SSD recipient would receive. Because SSI is designed to provide a subsistence living to those unable to work, if you have substantial assets at your disposal (like a family trust or large savings accounts), you may not qualify. 

This can mean that if you marry a spouse who earns enough to support both of you, or has substantial assets of his or her own, you may no longer qualify for SSI benefits. In fact, if you and your spouse have available assets of more than $3,000, you may find yourself over the asset limit and required to pay back any SSI payments received after your marriage. 

Should you marry if you receive SSI?

While it may seem tempting to skip the marriage ceremony and simply live in your partner's home while drawing SSI benefits, if you commingle assets and live as a committed couple, it's possible the Social Security Administration could consider your partner's provision of food and shelter as "in kind" assistance that should be counted as a source of monthly income. While it's unlikely that the Social Security Administration will begin garnishment proceedings against someone whose household assets are slightly over the limit, if you're living a comfortable lifestyle and acting as a married couple, you may draw the attention of enforcement personnel. You could then find yourself required to repay all the SSI income you've received during the time you've been over the asset limit, which could total thousands of dollars.

What can you do to protect yourself during marriage or cohabitation with a working partner?

If you'd like to marry, or if you plan to move in with your partner and are worried about running afoul of the asset limits, you should see an attorney, such as J W Chalkley III PA . You may be able to structure your income or assets to allow you to continue to qualify for reduced benefits, or to hold your application in abeyance so that if your marriage ends or your spouse becomes disabled, you won't need to reapply for benefits. Taking this proactive step can help you sleep easy, knowing that you won't be required to return any overpayments to the Social Security Administration.