Marriage and Divorce Effects on Supplemental Social Security Income


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Supplemental Security Income (SSI) supports people with disabilities and senior citizens, who would otherwise struggle to afford basic necessities like food and shelter. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict guidelines regarding SSI, and when you’re married, the SSA looks at your spouse’s income too when deciding whether or not you’ll receive SSI. Interestingly, many people receive larger SSI benefits after getting divorced than they received while married.

SSI: An Overview

Supplemental security income is different than Social Security disability insurance (SSDI). To receive SSDI, a person must have worked and paid into the Social Security system for a set period of time. But there are no such requirements that a person receiving SSI must meet.

SSI is a program that pays benefits to people who have limited resources and income. Only certain people are eligible.

  • Children with disabilities
  • Adults with disabilities
  • Adults 65 and older (with or without disabilities)

Disabled applicants for SSI must demonstrate that they are seriously disabled and, in the case of adult applicants, that they are unable to work. All adult applicants must also provide information about all forms of income, including stocks, property, cash and anything else that could be used to pay for basic necessities.

SSI is given in the form of monthly payments. The amount increases slightly each year in keeping with the rising cost of living; in 2017, a single SSI recipient can receive a maximum of $735 per month.

If you think you might be eligible for SSI or other SSA programs, you can use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool to determine the benefits to which you might be entitled.

Marriage and SSI

Marriage affects your SSI eligibility in a few ways. If you apply for SSI as a single person, getting married may later affect your eligibility and benefits.

 
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If Only One of You Is Eligible for SSI

First of all, if you apply for SSI but your spouse does not, the SSA will still want to know about your spouse’s income. That’s because of a term the SSA calls "deeming": basically, they want to know whether your spouse has adequate income and resources to take care of you without the assistance of SSI. Only some of a spouse’s income is deemed, or taken into consideration.

The SSA has a complicated set of guidelines around deeming, so if you’re marrying or married to a person not eligible for SSI, it’s best to visit your local Social Security office to discuss your own eligibility.

If You’re Both Eligible for SSI

When you and your spouse are both eligible for SSI, you receive benefits at a couple’s rate instead of the individual rate. Two married spouses receive smaller SSI payments than two unmarried individuals receive, even if those individuals live together as a couple.

In fact, benefits for married couples are around 25-percent smaller than benefits for unmarried couples. In 2017, married couples receive maximum monthly benefits of $1,103, compared to the maximum $735 received by individuals.

Divorce and SSI

Ending your marriage will affect your SSI status. If your spouse earned too much income for you to receive SSI, you may now be eligible. And if you and your spouse both received SSI, after a divorce you will go back to receiving benefits at the individual rate instead of the couple’s rate. Note that receiving spousal support could affect your eligibility and benefit rate.

You must report any change to your marital status to the SSA within 10 days of the month in which the change in status happens. (So if you’re married in June, report it by July 10th.) Report changes by calling 1-800-772-1213 or your local Social Security office.


 

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