In order to qualify for disability benefits through Social Security, you have to meet strict criteria. Depending on which kind of benefits you apply for, whether you are married to a spouse who still works may play a role in determining your eligibility.
In addition to suffering from a qualifying disability, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) requires that you complete a certain number of years (based on your age and the age at which you became disabled) at a job that paid into Social Security before you became unable to work. Since your work record is one of the deciding factors and not your household’s total income, your spouse’s ability to work is irrelevant. In this instance, you can have a high household income because of your spouse’s job and still qualify for SSDI benefits if you become disabled.
On the other hand, whether your spouse works will likely have a direct bearing on your eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSI was created for the most financially destitute individuals, so qualifying for benefits through that program requires you to have little or no income or assets.
With respect to SSI, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will look at your household’s income and resources as a whole, and this threshold is set at $3,000 for a couple. If you are married, part of your spouse’s income and resources will be deemed yours as well. Therefore, if the deemed portion of your spouse’s income and/or resources pushes you over the $3,000 threshold, your claim for benefits may be denied outright, or your benefits could be greatly reduced, even if you do have an otherwise qualifying disability.
Who qualifies as a spouse under SSA, you may ask? SSA recognizes all legally married couples, including same-sex marriages in all fifty states. If you live with a significant other but are not legally married, SSA will not consider your partner’s income for purposes of SSI. SSA similarly does not recognize civil unions when making benefits determinations.