TN 49 (02-16)
SI 00501.150 Determining Whether a Marital Relationship Exists
Social Security Act §1614(b) and §1614(d)
Regulations 20 CFR 416.1801 through 416.1835
A. When to use these instructions to determine the existence of marital relationships for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) purposes
Use the instructions in this section to determine the existence of a marital relationship for SSI purposes.
For instructions about same-sex couples, also see GN 00210.800 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Same-Sex Marriages and Same-Sex Couples.
For instructions about transgender individuals, also see GN 00305.005, Determining Marital Status.
B. When two individuals are considered married for SSI purposes
Two individuals are married for SSI purposes if they are:
Legally married under the laws of the state where they make their permanent home (Note: all states must permit and recognize same-sex marriages);
Entitled to Title II benefits, one as the spouse of the other; or
Living together in the same household and holding themselves out as a married couple to the community in which they live. See SI 00501.152, Determining Whether Two Individuals Are Holding Themselves Out as a Married Couple, for more information.
C. Determining that a marital relationship exists for SSI purposes
1. Accept an allegation about marriage
Accept an individual's allegation that he or she is or is not married. If there is information to the contrary, follow instructions in this section to obtain evidence about marital status for SSI purposes.
2. Evidence of marriage
If evidence is needed, follow instructions in GN 00305.000, Proof of Marital Relationship.
3. Married for Title II purposes
Document the file to show the entitlement of one member of the couple to Title II benefits on the record of the other.
4. Holding out as a married couple
Refer to SI 00501.152, Determining Whether Two Individuals Are Holding Themselves Out as a Married Couple, for more information. Holding out also applies to same-sex couples.
D. When two individuals are no longer considered married for SSI purposes
Two individuals are no longer married for SSI purposes as of the date that any of the following occurs.
Either individual dies.
They receive an issuance of a final decree of annulment or divorce.
Either individual begins living with a different person whom the agency would also recognize as a spouse. For more information, see SI 00501.150G.1. in this section.
They change their permanent home to a state whose laws do not recognize their marriage.
They no longer hold themselves out as married.
They are no longer married for Title II purposes.
NOTE: If a marital relationship ends by death, divorce, or annulment in the same month it began, treat the marriage as if it had never existed. Otherwise, the termination of marriage is effective the month after the month of death, divorce, or annulment.
E. Evidence that a marital relationship has ended
1. Death, divorce, annulment
Note the date and the event on a DROC screen, and indicate what evidence you obtained or explain why evidence is not available.
2. Living with different spouse
Document the file with relevant information.
3. Change in Title II “deemed spouse” determination
Document the file with a copy of the Title II termination notice or MBR query showing the deemed spouse's ledger account file (LAF) code, if something indicates that we reversed a prior “deemed spouse” determination.
4. Couple no longer holding out
Refer to SI 00501.152, Determining Whether Two Individuals Are Holding Themselves Out as a Married Couple, for more information if there is an indication that the couple are no longer holding themselves out as married.
F. When the marital relationship applies to eligibility and computation of payments
For SSI purposes, two individuals are married for a month if they meet the criteria in SI 00501.150B in this section as of the first moment of the month. For the exceptions to the “first moment of the month” rule, see SI 00501.154, Determining When Couple Computation Rules Apply.
G. Special circumstances
1. If more than one individual could be considered a spouse
For SSI purposes, we recognize as a spouse only a person with whom the claimant is living. It is not material that another person may also qualify as the legal spouse of either of the people who are living together.
For example, an SSI claimant may be married but living separately from someone who is his or her spouse according to state law, but we may recognize another individual in the household as the claimant’s holding out spouse for SSI purposes.
2. Couple resume living together
A marital relationship exists when two individuals resume living together after having lived together previously as a married couple. In such a case, we presume that the individuals are in a marital relationship unless they present evidence to the contrary.
Evidence to the contrary includes evidence of a divorce or the termination of a holding out relationship. For example, if a divorced couple resume living together due to illness or for economic reasons with no intention of resuming a marital relationship, this represents evidence to the contrary.
If two individuals who previously lived together as a married couple resume living together, review the facts of the case to make a new marital status determination.
If the couple are still legally married under the laws of the state where they make their permanent home (Note: all states must permit and recognize same-sex marriages), and they resume living together after having lived apart, they are a married couple for SSI purposes, regardless of the reason they resumed living together.
If the couple allege that they are legally separated, consider the couple to be married since a legal marriage still exists.
NOTE: Legal separation does not imply that the couple are not living together.
If the couple allege that they are divorced, obtain a copy of the divorce decree. Obtain signed statements from both individuals explaining why they are living together (e.g., illness, economic reasons). Follow instructions in SI 00501.152 to determine if they are holding themselves out to the community as married.
If the couple allege that they are no longer holding themselves out as married, follow instructions in SI 00501.152, Determining Whether Two Individuals Are Holding Themselves Out as a Married Couple.
Marie and Patrick divorced several years ago. Recently, Patrick became ill. Marie, who is an SSI recipient, moved to Patrick's home to provide care during his illness. Marie informed Social Security about the change of address. Patrick filed for SSI benefits and informed the claims representative about their divorce and the current living arrangement. Because Marie and Patrick are living together, the claims representative followed instructions in SI 00501.152 to determine if they are holding themselves out as married. Neither Marie nor Patrick presents them as married, and there is no indication of a holding-out relationship. Therefore, Patrick is an eligible individual.
3. Same-sex marriage
The instructions in this section and SI 00501.152 apply to same-sex couples. Also see GN 00210.800 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Same-Sex Marriages and Same-Sex Couples.
Example: John Stevens applies for SSI and reports that he and William Smith were married in Vermont on October 15, 2009 and they make their permanent home in Louisiana. We accept Mr. Stevens’ allegation that he is married. We recognize Mr. Stevens’ marriage as of the date he was married – October 15, 2009. If Mr. Stevens was not married, but he and Mr. Smith lived in the same household, we would develop for holding out if there was not an obvious reason for them to live in the same household, other than as a couple. For more information about holding out, see SI 00501.152.