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Marriage is a Legal Contract

Sometimes, when couples become engaged, they are so full of love that they forget that marriage is a legal undertaking. This is an important recognition that sets the professional officiant apart. Along with ensuring that both parties are consenting to the union, it is good to be a knowledgeable resource about the implications of marriage. This doesn’t mean that the officiant should be doling out legal or financial advice. Au contraire. Instead, when relevant, introduce the topic and direct the couple to do their own research. The following is a primer.

Social Security Benefits

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides income for elderly or disabled people with limited income. Therefore, when a person receiving SSI gets married, their spouse’s income is considered to determine eligibility and calculate the amount of the benefit. This is probably the biggest surprise to couples. It is also a change with significant repercussions for those of limited means.

Benefits will be reduced by 25% if both members of the couple receive SSI when they marry. For this reason, it is important that the officiant make sure that the couple is aware that marriage will change their benefits from individual rates to a couple’s rate. If only one person in the couple receives SSI, the benefit will be reduced, or even eliminated, depending on the spouse’s income.

Marriage affects other Social Security benefits:

  • Social Security disability or retirement benefits stay the same
  • Widow/ers or divorced widow/ers cannot get benefits if they remarry before age 60
  • Disabled people cannot get benefits if they remarry before age 50
  • Divorced spouse benefits end if remarried
  • Benefits end for a married child under 18 or students ages 18-19

More information available on the Social Security FAQ.


Getting married means that Uncle Sam will be looking at a couple’s finances differently. In some circumstances there is a marriage penalty, and other times, a bonus. The bonus typically happens when there is income disparity between the couple. As an illustration, consider one person in a higher income bracket. Their joint income is reduced when averaged with the partner’s smaller income. This lowers their combined tax bracket.

Alternatively, the penalty happens if both parties have a higher incomes. For instance, Intuit’s Turbo Tax reports that for the 2021 tax year, the highest tax rate  for single earners includes income at $523,600, but only $628,000 for couples – way less than what it would be if the $523K was doubled.

Name Change

Sometimes, one or both members of the couple wants to change their name after marrying. The first step is the individual lets Social Security know. Marriage is the legal basis for the name change, so a copy of the marriage license is needed. Moreover, they will also need to prove their identity and US citizenship status (if applicable). Therefore, they will also need a photo ID such as a US driver’s license, state-issued identification card or US passport. Birth certificates, current passports or a Certificate of Naturalization demonstrate US citizenship. More information is available at the Social Security Matters‘ website.

There are many other legal rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. A few of them are:

Inheritance * Parenthood and Adoption * Health Insurance * Medical Decision-Making * Financial Responsibilities

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