Social Security Disability and Common-Law Marriage

By Tom Streissguth

Social Security pays disability benefits to qualified applicants who are unable to work due to a long-lasting illness or permanent injury. According to the Social Security rules, the spouse of a beneficiary can also draw benefits under certain conditions. Although federal law governs Social Security, state laws come into play when the question of common-law marriage arises.

Social Security pays disability benefits to qualified applicants who are unable to work due to a long-lasting illness or permanent injury. According to the Social Security rules, the spouse of a beneficiary can also draw benefits under certain conditions. Although federal law governs Social Security, state laws come into play when the question of common-law marriage arises.

Spouse Benefit Payments

Under the Social Security rules, the legal spouse of a disabled or retired beneficiary can draw spouse benefits starting at the age of 62. If the spouse waits until full retirement age -- which is 65 to 67, depending on the year of birth -- the spouse benefit is one-half of the disabled worker's benefit. Before full retirement age, Social Security reduces the amount of the benefit, so the earlier you begin taking spouse benefits, the lower the payments will be. At 62, for example, the spouse benefit would be only 35 percent of the covered worker's benefit. If the spouse would earn more on his own work record, Social Security pays the higher amount instead.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Common-Law Marriage

Social Security pays spouse benefits only to individuals who are legally married to beneficiaries, although divorced spouses in some cases also qualify. If you have not legally married, but have established a legally recognized common-law marriage, you may also qualify. Social Security relies on individual state laws to determine your eligibility. If the state you reside in recognizes the common-law marriage, so does the Social Security Administration, and spouse benefits are available starting at age 62.

Qualifying for Common-Law Status

Not all states recognize common-law marriage. The ones that do set down specific requirements to prove there is a valid marriage. For example, the couple must typically live together; hold themselves out to the general public as married; use joint bank accounts; and share the same last name. As of mid-2013, Alabama, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Utah allow common-law marriage. Even if a state allows domestic partnerships, civil unions or same-sex marriages, however, this does not mean it allows common-law marriage.

Out-of-State Common-Law Marriages

Social Security makes the eligibility determination when the spouse actually applies for benefits, using the laws of the state where the applicant lives at that time. But there is one exception to that general rule: Social Security recognizes a common-law marriage if the couple has moved from one state that legally recognizes such unions to another that does not. As long as the laws of the individual state extend legal status to common-law couples that have moved from another state, spouse benefits would be available.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Can a Divorced Spouse Collect on Disability Benefits or Social Security Income?

References

Related articles

Military Divorce Benefits When Married Less Than 10 Years

Losing access to military benefits can be one of the most difficult financial hits a non-military spouse faces in divorce. The applicable federal law, called the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act -- known as the USFSPA -- addresses the circumstances under which a non-military spouse can keep military benefits. Generally, spouses do not receive any military benefits for marriages less than 20 years.

Can a Divorced Spouse Waive the Social Security Income of a Spouse?

After a long-term marriage, you may be entitled to receive Social Security benefits under your ex-spouse's work record. However, application is optional; you do not have to file any sort of waiver to stop the Social Security Administration from sending you benefits. If you are interested in receiving such benefits, you must qualify by meeting certain requirements and actually apply.

Do Indiana Divorce Filings Expire?

Each state has its own rules and procedures when it comes to officially terminating a marriage. In Indiana, divorce papers do not suddenly expire when the clock strikes midnight, but couples who ask for a legal separation need to keep an eye on the clock.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Social Security Benefits for a Non-Working Spouse After a Divorce

Social Security administers retirement and disability insurance programs. To be eligible for benefits, you must earn ...

Information on Getting Divorced While in the Marine Corps

Like civilians, Marines get divorced. But only civilian courts can grant divorce petitions, and the divorce process is ...

Military Spouse Divorce Benefits

Members of the United States military and their spouses qualify for a variety of benefits, such as health care, ...

Federal Retirement Benefits for Divorced Spouses

Divorce can impact various types of retirement benefits, making some retirement savings accounts eligible for division ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED